Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Port Grand Tasting in London, courtesy of Instituto dos Vinhos Douro e do Porto

An intense afternoon for the wine trade in London today. A few weeks after a Madeira day, trade reps and media were invited by Westbury Pr to a walk around tasting of magnificent port bottles. All in all 19 tables with hundreds of samples, from simpler ruby to rare over fifty-year-old gems.

The Douro wine region was created one fine morning, on 10th September 1756, when Portugal decided to put some systematic order in the production of its most widely known and appreciated alcoholic drink. This makes Douro the oldest demarcated and regulated wine region in the whole world. 

It consists of two parts: Douro for regular wines and Porto for the iconic fortified brother. Today we focused on the latter.

Just as a reminder of port categories, here is how one should read the labels, and below a selection of my personal picks from a  superb collection put together by Westbury Communications for the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto.

Over a hundred varieties are allowed, but only five (Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional) are the most commonly used. White port is made with  Malvasia Fina, Donzelinho, Gouveio, Codega and Rabigato.

Ruby: wine usually made in steel. "Vintage" is given only for special years when the IVDP recognizes a potential for long aging, usually 3 or 4 times in a decade. "Late bottled vintage" is a ruby port that has spent longer in the oak barrel, at least 4 years, usually longer than that, and it develops more complex and subtle flavors as a result. 

Tawny: especially chosen for aging in oak casks. Wine is slowly exposed to air in the barrels. When an indication of age appears (10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years) it means the wine has been produced blending products from different years to obtain a final result that in the opinion of the winemakers shows the characteristics for that age. It does not mean that all the wine is as old as indicated on the label.

Colheita: a Tawny wine that comes from a specific year's vintage. Aged in wood for at least 7 years and often 20 or more years.

Port sales worldwide have recently topped 80m bottles per year.

Here are the best bottles of today.

Dia and her Burmester treasures


Colheita Tawny 2003, score 89

20 Year Old Tawny, smooth, score 92

40 Year Old Tawny, great balance, caramel, score 93

1967 Colheita, a surprise not in the original catalog! Complex nose and palate of dried apricots, caramel, very long, score 96, the best bottle today ex aequo.

Allegedly the oldest port house still in existence, founded in 1638.

50 Year Old Tawny. Complexity, balance, length: a harmonious wine, score 96, the best bottle today ex aequo.

40 Year Old WHITE, nutty, fragrant, score 94

30 Year Old WHITE, as above, a bit less evolved, score 90

Colheita WHITE 2003 and 2005, smooth, sweet sensations prevail, score 86

Garrafeira Tawny 1987, a smoky wine, unique, one may love it or leave it! Aged in demijohns which produces a smoky result. Nieport is the only house to use this process today. score 95 

Royal Oporto 40 Year Old Tawny, score 92 RRP GPB 120

Royal Oporto Colheita Tawny 1977, score 93 RRP GBP 140

Royal Oporto Colheita Tawny 1980, score 89

Mary Wright pouring 50yo liquid gold

Sandeman & Ferreira

Ferreira Dona Antonia 10 Year Old WHITE, score 86

Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Old Tawny, score 88

Ferreira Dona Antonia 30 Year Old Tawny, score 92 RRP GBP 99

Sandeman 40 Year Old Tawny, score 90 RRP GBP 156, dry for its age.

Sandeman 50 Year Old Tawny, score 96, RRP GBP 330, a harmonious wine, the best bottle today ex aequo.

I could not have asked for a better bottle to end today's tasting.

Wine Regions of Porto and DOuro (image by I.V.D.P.)

subregions of Porto and Douro

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Brunello 2018 and Riserva 2017 "en primeur" in London

Exceptional tasting today of Brunello di Montalcino en primeur: 2018 vintage and 2017 "riserva" (aged one extra year). Kudos to the organizers Hunt and Speller, a sure bet when talking Italian wine in London. Unusually, instead of the traditional walkaround, we were assigned individual tables and a team of helpful waiters and waitresses poured the wines we requested in batches of six. A much more pleasant and efficient organization. Presumably the first event of such kind in the UK!

A few facts from the useful catalogue provided: Montalcino only sports 2000 ha of production for Brunello and 500 ha for its little brother Rosso di Montalcino and this total surface area has not increased for some time. What has increased is the world's knowledge and appreciation for Brunello's 10 million bottles or so that hit the market every year! These are lovingly cultivated by some 260 producers.

Some dates to remember: DOC received in 1966, Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino created in 1967, DOCG received in 1980.

Not that anyone needs reminding, but Brunello can only be made with 100% sangiovese, the iconic Tuscan variety. Maximum yield is 52 hl/ha. Minimum 24 months aging in oak casks, minimum 4 months aging in bottle (6 for riserva) and release not earlier than 1st january of the 5th year after harvest (6th for riserva).

One reason Brunello is so popular, despite rising prices, is probably that it is a versatile wine: its velvety elegance can be paired with a wide range of food: obviously red meat but also many pasta sauces and lots of roasted or baked dishes, including fish.

Below a few tasting notes for the best of the best today. It was a hard choice as all Brunellos are good wines, most are excellent and quite a few are exceptional. But here is my list of stars which I scored 90 and above, best on top.

Let's get started!

Pian delle Querci, 2017 riserva, 97

Tenuta Conte Pavoni - Loacker Wine Estates, 2017 riserva Molino al Vento, 40yo vines,biodynamic, 97

Fattoria dei Barbi, 2017 riserva, some vines 45+yo, 96

Casa Raia, 2018, 47-year-old vines, organic, 96

Patrizia Cencioni, 2018, 96

Fattoria dei Barbi, 2018 Vigna del Fiore, 96

Pian delle Querci, 2018, 96

Casisano, 2017 riserva, 95

Ruffino, 2018 Greppone Mazzi, organic, 95

Ruffino, 2017 Greppone Mazzi riserva, organic, 95

Castello Banfi, 2017 riserva, needs time, 94

Salicutti, 2017 Teatro, 94

Fattoi, 2017 riserva, 94

Capanna, 2017 riserva, 40+yo vines, 94 

Col d'Orcia, 2015 riserva, 45yo vines, 93

Tenute Silvio Nardi, 2018 vigneto Manachiara, 93

Mocali, 2017 riserva, 93

Paradiso di Cacuci, 2017 riserva, organic, 92

Altesino, 2018 Vigna Montosoli, organic, 92

Le Gode, 2018 Vigna Montosoli, organic, 92

See you next time

Monday, November 14, 2022

Meet the Producer: Tesalia, Andalusia, Spain

Andalusia's Wine Region (by Quentin Sadler of the WSG)

Three wines by Tesalia, from Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia, some 50km east of Jerez, the town of Sherry. A businessman from England who had lived for forty years in Spain decided he wanted to make wine and bought land for this purpose. Andalusia is known for heavy wines, the hot climate produces lots of sugar and alcohol can go through the roof quite easily. Manager Natalia decided to do a premium wine, fresh red wines in Andalusia, a novelty. They started in 2008 and in 2018 first wines were released, the 2015 vintage. They started exporting in 2019. 

We had a chance to meet the producer at the May 2022 online fair brilliantly organized by Onvinum, a new Spanish platform to bring together producers, buyers and educators.

Thank you to Cristina Aldea, the boss of Hola Wines for presenting these bottles to the Brussels Wine Club.

monkfish cheeks!

Arx 2018

Arx by Tesalia de la terra di Cadiz blend of petit verdot, tintilla de rota, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, a plump wine of complex fruity power and good balance. Harvested at night to take advantage of lower temperatures and preserve the berries during the hot Spanish Summer.

Paired with monkfish cheeks on a bed of lettuce.

Score 90

pork belly, water bamboo and rice

Arcos de la Frontera 2017 

A smooth wine, ready to be enjoyed now. Complex aromas, mature fruit and medium body, perfect balance and medium length.
Magic pairing with Chinese dish of pork belly, water bamboo and brown rice. 
Score 92

Iceni 2020

Alcohol sits front and center in this wine, with powerful tannins on the side. It is an entry-level product that would be pleasant with some bbq meat but lacks complexity and length for more ambitious pairings. I would never have guessed it spent 5 months in French oak.
Score 83


Monday, November 7, 2022

Discover Feteasca Neagra: Romania's Red Flagship?

thanks Caroline Gilby MW
Master class

Unique master class led by Caroline Gilby MW and organized by WINEaBE at the iconic 67 Pall Mall club in London. When putting Romania and wine in the same sentence, most people think of inexpensive and mostly pinot noir. That was, to a first approximation, a fairly accurate depiction of reality until recent times. Below some of my notes from this event.

Today there is much more that that. The country hosts the fifth largest vine area in Europe (after Spain, France, Italy and Portugal), and ranks sixth in the continent for wine production (after the aforementioned four countries and Germany). 

Romania might have ranked higher but it was hampered during the communist times in at least two ways: on the one hand, collectivization and government interference held back quality production, in viticulture as in so many other areas. On the other hand, in the context of the Comecon organization, Romania was not designated a wine producing country (as Hungary and Bulgaria were) and consequently every successive five-year plan neglected this sector.

When communism fell and private property was restored, the outlook began to improve, but for a long time producers preferred quantity over quality. This is now slowly changing. Diverse terroirs and climates, married to improved technology and know how, mean that this lesser known country is now projecting a new image of itself to the world.

Romanian producers are now catching up, wine makers from France and Italy are invited to transfer their knowledge, investment in machinery and wine education is rising. For example, more producers are now persuaded that it is necessary to pick grapes earlier and reduce yields to improve quality. 

One problem is that winemakers don't exchange information among themselves, should do more to create a critical mass and raise the overall quality of Romanian wines.

Today's tasting is focussed on Feteasca Neagra, Romania's premier indigenous red grape. The name means "black girl" and it is believed to have originated somewhere near Iasi, near Moldavia. An ancient grape with no known parentage.

It produces full bodied wines with powerful tannins and is therefore well suited to aging. 


We tasted twelve wines, all 100% feteasca neagra. Here is my shortlist of the best in the range.

Patrar 2019 
This producer claims to be Romania's first biodynamic wine. It has been criticized by some at the tasting for using very heavy, environmentally unfriendly bottles. Started its production in 2011 and now grows grapes on 154 ha overall.
Fresh cherries with mod length and balance.
Score 87

Mosia Galicea Mare, Oltenia (no website found)

Elegance Feteasca Neagra 2018

Founded in 2016 in an old 1912 art nouveau building, and has some 70-year-old vines on its property, claimed to be the oldest in Romania. Adopted organic farming, no additions at all except some sulphites.
Mod complex wine with excellent balance and elegance.
Score 89

Sandridge 2018
Dagon, Dealu Mare
Forty-year-old vines and spontaneous fermentation for this complex and balanced wine with good aging potential. Expensive at RRP £50 in the UK.
Score 91

Feteasca neagra origini 2018
This large winery (over 3.5m bottles annually) was founded in 2013 and works in cooperation with British winemaker Stephen Donnelly.
Ripe cherries, chocolate, a bit on the smooth side because of a bit much residual sugar and the use of  American oak.
Score 89

Guy de Poix 2015
A velvety smooth wine, perfectly balanced and long. Chocolate and ripe cherries, drink now no need to wait! The best of today
Score 92

Amarone Calling: Walkaround and Master Class with the UK Sommelier Association

First rate gathering of producers from the Consorzio Valpolicella who displayed their products in London at a walkaround tasting event organized by the UK Sommelier Association. Thank you Andrea Rinaldi and Federica Zanghirella for the opportunity and a mission brilliantly accomplished.

A master class in the afternoon, delivered by Peter McCombie MW, provided a useful educational framework with plenty of facts and figures about  Valpolicella wines and specifically about the holy trinity of this region: Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto.

The Master Class

In the maps printed here, courtesy of the Consorzio della Valpolicella, you can locate the regions of Valpolicella, with its "classic" part in west. 

Lake Garda mitigates what would otherwise be a more difficult continental climate.

The main varieties used here are corvina (56% of the total), corvinone (16%), rondinella (20%) and molinara, with some marginal additions like oseleta. All red berried, no white wines. 

Total production has skyrocketed with the increasing popularity of Valpolicella wines, and by 2021 it was over 70 million bottles, of which about half was Ripasso, one quarter Valpolicella DOC and one quarter Amarone.

These wines, almost unknown outside Veneto and certainly outside Italy until the 1980s, has became so appreciated worldwide that now over 60% of production is exported to 87 different countries for over 600 million euro of turnover. This activity keeps busy 2,250 grape growers in Valpolicella, 6 cooperatives and 344 bottlers!

As Peter put it, these allow winemakers to produce one blend, four wines in four different styles, and here below is a summary description.

1. Valpolicella, the foundation of all regional wine, a classic blend of the grapes mentioned above.

2. Ripasso Where Valpolicella wine is left with the pomace from Recioto and Amarone for a second maceration which adds alcohol, body and tannins.

Pair it by concordance with structured food like red meat or aged cheeses, or by contrast with fatty food like cold cuts or soft cheese.

3. Amarone The front and center protagonist today, "Big Bitter" wine is actually rather smooth and it can even have traces of sweetness in it. It is produced by drying berries on straw, wooden or plastic mats for about six months prior to vinification. About half the weight of the berries is lost as they gradually shrink and concentrate their sugars, acidity and, crucially, glycerin which will contribute to the smoothness of the final product. 

This methodology has now become popular in other regions of Italy (for example in Puglia) and beyond, and the word "appassimento" (literally meaning "withering") has entered the international dictionary of wine.

There is some danger of noble rot appearing as the harvest is delayed, but this is generally NOT favored by winemakers who try to harvest before and avoid it as it might alter the typical flavors of amarone. However some to make use of it as best they can.

Fermentation of the thick and dense berries is at least ten days, and abv can easily go as high as 16%.

Aging is at least three years, four years for riserva wines, usually in a mix of large barrels and barriques.

Pair it by concordance with medium structure food like ragù, white meat or even roasted fish.

4. Recioto The names comes from the "recie", in Veronese dialect the "ears" or upper part of the bunches, which receive more sun and hence produce more sugar. Today the whole bunch is used and fermentation is blocked by lowering the temperature in order to produce a sweet wine.

Pair with chocolate mousse, or don't bother pairing it at all, just have it by itself!

We tasted 14 wines in the master class, here are my three favorites:

Amarone classico 2015
Chocolate notes for a perfectly balanced wine.
Score 93

Amarone classico 2013
Complex, long and chocolaty, with leather notes. Ready now, one of the best today.
Score 96

Amarone 2016
A long complex and balanced wine at its peak now.
Score 95

Walkaround tasting

It was not easy to select a shortlist, but here below are some of the best wines tasted in the walkaround at Dartmouth House. Listed in the order I have tasted them.

Bertani, an old hand making wine since 1857

Valpolicella Ripasso Valpantena 2020
Intense aromas, perfect balance and very complex.
Score 93.

Amarone Classico 2012 (!)
This is the vintage they have just released. They tell me how proud they are, and justifiably so, of their patience where others rush to the market. After 100 days of appassimento, Bertani lets Amarone age in oak for 7 years, no less, followed by 3 years in the bottle, before they sell it. An amazing result, this Amarone is full of tertiary notes, perfectly balanced and very long.

Valpolicella classico superiore 2018
He calls this "his own version of ripasso" because of how he makes it. And it does taste like one. A powerful wine with long potential for aging.
Score 94

Amarone classico 2017
Archetypical example of amarone, with a good balance and complexity.
Score 93


Amarone classico "Il Lussurioso" 2018
Luxuriant in name and in fact, an elegant wine, complex and long. It patiently waits for 30 months in big barrels and the 1 year in the bottle and it is now ready but with some potential for further evolution.
Score 94

Recioto "Il Narcisista" 2019
Buglioni has some fun with his choice of names and also in this case he gets it right. One year in big barrels presents us with a smooth sweet wine which is looking forward to its pairing with a chocolate mousse.
Score 92

Amarone classico riserva 2013
Time well spent in the barrel for this perfectly balanced, long and complex amarone, one of the best this afternoon.
Score 94

Recioto classico 2020
A classic sweet recioto, they block fermentation by cooling down the partially fermented must all the way to freezing point. A moderately balanced moderately long version of this Venetian classic.
Score 86

Amarone 2011
A top-of-the-range product, with multiple notes of ripe brack fruit and tertiaries. A long and complex amarone that is now mature. One of the best today.
Score 96

Amarone classico riserva "Marta Galli" 2011
A complex and incredibly long wine, it was worth the wait and it is mature now, don't wait if you are lucky enough to get hold of a bottle.
Score 95

Ripasso classico superiore 2020
An easy wine, relatively, that is, as no ripasso is ever a simple wine; only 1 year in large oak barrel, ready now with limited potential for evolution.
Score 87

Amarone classico 2019
Lots of freshness after 2 years in large oak barrels, this wine requires patience, at least 5 years.
Score 87

Amarone classico "Simison"
Their flagship wine today. Hand picked bunches from 65-year-old vines in the Simison plot make it a monocru expression of the best potential for an amarone. Only 2000 bottles produced after 2 ½ years of aging in new barriques.
Score 93

Ripasso superiore 2018
Their first organic ripasso, 2 years in large barrel then 1 year in used barrique.
Score 92

Amarone classico 2017
Two years in large barrel and 2 more in barrique for a balanced final product.
Score 93

Ripasso classico superiore 2019
A high-end ripasso, complex and very round despite the young age.
Score 94

Amarone classico "Corte Valona" 2017
Ready now but personally I would let it evolve in the bottle another 3-5 years to achieve what would surely be a perfect balance.
Score 94 

Recioto classico "Le Novaje" 2019
A upper-range recioto, very smooth.
Score 93

Master class with Peter McCombie MW

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Meet the Producer: Molleda wines

The Hacienda Molleda winery is located in the municipality of Tosos, 9 km away from Cariñena and 51 km from Zaragoza. It belongs to the Protected Denomination of Origin (P.D.o.O.) of Cariñena (Carignan), in Spain's North-East, one of the most ancient and pioneering P.D.o.O. in Spain. Hacienda Molleda  consists of 250 hectares of vineyards, mainly native Cariñena (Carignan) varieties, such as Garnacha (Grenache) and the grape Cariñena (Carignan), also known as Mazuela. Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Macabeo are grape varieties, which are also cultivated in the Melendez – Molleda family estate. (from their website)

Here are some tasting notes from the bottles we were sent for review.

Molleda white
Garnacha white and Macabeo
brilliant straw yellow
fresh start but soon develop smoothness for a good balance.
Mod complexity, a great Summer wine to drink in your garden or terrace
Score 88

Molleda 2020 Garnacha roble
Fresh, lively tannins, could use more time to smoothen. Mod lenght. An easy wine for a Summer bbq
Score 83

Molleda Finca La Matea, garnacha 2016
A well balanced wine, expression of fruit and elegant structure. Ready now, complex and mod long.
Score 92

Carinena NV
Entry level easy wine.
Score 76

Carinena GHM 2014

Their best product of this relatively unknown grape that presents us with a fruity nose and a lively tannin. What it lack in complexity it makes up in balance, especially a few hours after opening the bottle.

Score 88

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Madeira tasting in London

Thank you Westbury for organizing an intense "Madeira Wine Experience" today at London's Glazier's Hall. A walkaround of most of Madeira's producers (there are less than 10 anyway!) was enriched by three well-run masterclasses and the result was an intense day of exposure to this unique fortified wine.

I led a visit to Madeira with the Brussels Wine Club before, and was already familiar with most of the producers who participated today, but there is always something new to learn in the infinite diversity of madeira wines.

Especially useful was the provision of different kinds of food to match to madeira. While usually seen as an aperitif, or an accompaniment to dessert or cheese, madeira can actually be paired quite successfully with a variety of main courses from the cuisines of the world.

Below are my notes from some of the most notable tastings today. I mostly skipped the entry-level 5 and 10-year-old wines, not because they are not good, they often are. And can be great value. But I focused on the rarest bottles that might intrigue readers to spend a bit more in order to access a more unique drinking experience. Let us remember that the best madeira can age over a century, easily, as it is a very stable wine thanks to its unique process of controlled heating and slow oxidation. Looking forward to the next Westbury event on port wines in November.

Walkaround tasting

Blandy's range

Blandy's best today

My first stop was at Blandy's, perhaps the most widely recognized label.

2009 Sercial, verdelho, boal and malvasia. Typical expressions of the four main varieties on the island, keep in mind that 2009 is a very very young vintage to drink in 2022.

The race horses for Blandy's today were the 1978 Terrantez and the 1972 Bual, just released this year after half a century of aging in barrels. 

Terrantez provided a pleasant bitterness that comes from this rare grape variety. Score 89. 

Bual (or Bual) was a magnificently smooth, balanced wine exuding nutty notes. Score 93

Henriques & Henriques lineup

Next stop at Henriques & Henriques.

A 15yo was fresh with a touch of ripe apricots. Score 86.

Terrantez 20yo was also fresh but more complex. Score 92.

Sercial 2001 was superfresh, citrussy even, very elegant. Score 93.

Boal 2009 predictably smooth and toffee notes. Score 93

Malvasia 2001 sweet as expected, smooth and long. Score 93

This company remains a stable point of reference in Madeira for dependable quality. They now own six brands. Go visit them when on the island for a unique experience, you can also see coopers making canteiro barrels!


Next up was Justino's. A producer whose cellar I visited a few years ago and you can read my reviews here in this blog. Today We tasted four wines.

A 10yo sercial was surprisingly smooth. Score 90

A 1997 sercial surprised me with an intense nose and amazing freshness that did no damage to an overall balance. One of the best wines today. Score 96

A 10yo verdelho was an easy drink, sweeter than expected. Score 85

Final fireworks with a 50yo terrantez, still so fresh and structured, complex and long. Score 94

Barbeito was a new discovery for me as I had not had a chance to taste their wines before. The gem of their lineup today was a bottle of bastardo, a rare grape that is now almost extinct in Madeira. Known as Trousseau elsewhere, it is used for dry wines but its Madeira incarnation is a world apart from anything else.

Bastardo, considered medium dry, was rediscovered in 2004 by Teofile Cunha. The first harvest was in 2007 and it's been going skyward ever since. Barbeito offered a bottle of just 2184 produced in 1995 that was tingling and fresh, with lime notes. Yet balanced and long. Score 95 for a most rare opportunity to taste this grape. 

A complex and long Tinta Negra (the humble grape from which by far most madeira wine is made) produced by the "canteiro" method in 2900 bottles in 2008 surprised me and all those who continue to exclude this grape from the list of "noble" varieties. Score 93

Finally, a malvasia candida 2006, produced in just 2366 bottles. A balanced, complex and moderately long wine. Score 92

Masterclass on Madeira pairing with food

As I mentioned earlier, madeira is too rarely thought of as a meal wine, but it is. Today we had a small sample of some successful pairings. Some, ahem, food for thought as we plan our meals with madeira wine.

A Blandy's sercial, the driest grape for madeira, was paired with a bite of cod on a salty spread of garlic conf, parsley and basil. The wine's acidity contrasted well with the creamy food.

Next, a Borges verdelho 15yo met its partner for the day in a slice of roast beef, again good contrast of medium dry wine with sweet tendency in the meat.

A Barbeito rainwater reserva, a tingling spicy wine, was well matched with smooth fried chicken. Usually, a classic pairing would be smooth wine and spicy food, but it worked very well the other way around here.

Henriques & Henriques offered a Finest medium dry that was paired with Hungarian beef stew. I would have preferred a drier madeira here but that's just my personal taste.

Justino's entry level semi-sweet Boal 10yo went hand in hand with sweet tendency pumpkin and blue cheese. Classical pairing by concordance of sweetness levels.

Finally Pereira's Malvasia 2000, the sweetest of the lineup, accompanied a ginger Jamaica cake with custard. In my view the cake was too sweet for this wine. Even though Malvasia is the sweetest madeira this bottle retained lots of acidity.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Meeting the Producer: Valdecuevas and Finca Rodma

Twin companies presented at Onvinum 2022, May edition.

Valdecuevas and Finca Rodma belong to the same Castilian holding company but retain their separate personalities and styles.

Verdejo 2021 valdecuevas
Fresh citrussy, almond, touch of vanilla
med length and complexity
Score 85

Verdejo valdecuevas 2020.
An easy Summer wine fresh and aromatic. A delicate structure and mod length. Well paired with frogs and lettuce stirred with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. 
Score 84

Valdecuevas fermented in Barrels 2020
More complex than the previous wine, and more structured. Paired with slightly spicy sea bass in the pan with spring onions.
Score 87

Finca Rodma Selection 2019
Hand picked grapes from their best plots. Evolved for 12 months in American and French oak. 
A powerful wine, exuding complex red fruit aromas with round tannins and good length.
Score 93

Monday, July 11, 2022

Meet the Producer: Kanu of Stellenbosch, South Africa

Jade showing her gold
Kanu was present at the London Wine Fair 2022 with a substantial range of wines.

Founded in 1692, it changed hands a number of times and it acquired its current name in 1997. You can read its full history, in times of peace and war, on their website. Today Kanu is established as a boutique producer of quality wines with grapes sourced over a wider area in the Western Cape.

The name Kanu is from a legend told by an old Xhosa man who was raised in his grandmother’s house on the Goedgeloof farm. Day after day, he would tell of the mythical bird he had seen flying over the farm. According to him, if the bird’s shadow touches your crop, you are promised a bountiful year’s harvest!  (from their website)

I was fortunate to taste a few wines, both at the London Wine Fair and subsequently with some colleagues from the Club. Scroll to the end of this post and you can listen to a conversation with Jason Chen, general manager and Johan Grimbeek, winemaker. Because of a technical glitch we only have the audio from our guests, sorry. Recorded on 11 July 2022.

Angelina rosé brut (Gold)
Fruity and smooth, with fine and persistent bubbles. Good freshness and minerality ensure a perfect balance with the lightly pressed pinot noir. Complex aromas in the nose and fragrance in the mouth. An elegant wine with a full personality. The gold flakes are added to some of the bottles to attract certain market segments who appreciate this precious touch of exclusivity and class.
Score 92

Pinotage rosé
Pomegranate color and fresh strawberry aromas for this original interpretation of an archetypical South African grape. Freshness in abundance but rounded for a perfect balance. 

An amazing surprise. I paired it with a raw yellowfin tuna salad on a hot Summer day and can see how this wine would be ideal with sushi, sashimi or beef carpaccio.
Score 94

Pinotage Rosé

Chenin Blanc 2019 Old Vines
Quite old these bush vines, planted in 1980 to be precise. Low yield, minimalist intervention for a vineyard certified as a heritage of Stellenbosch.
Papaya to the nose, immediately reveals a smooth, velvet wine. There is however enough acidity to ensure a moderate balance. Vanilla, almonds, pineapple all combine to provide complexity and moderate length. Late harvesting adds some spicy notes.
Score 90.

NuEra 2017
Deep ruby with highlights of garnet. An intense and complex set of red fruit aromas welcomes you to this plump and elegant wine. Peppercorn and lavender help give character and structure so that the result is a perfect balance. A harmonious wine. 
I paired it with lasagne, a medium structure food for a medium structure wine. I also tried it with Chinese pork belly and mushrooms, again the elegant tannins contrasted perfectly with the fat in the plate.
Ready now, can probably wait a few more years but it won't necessarily improve. An amazing discovery.
Score 95 

Keystone 2017
Top class South African wine in bordeaux style blend. You do not get the austerity of a Bordeaux but you can enjoy the sunshine in this is a superb expression of Stellenbosch: plump, fruity, complex and ready at just 5 years of age. I paired with bbq meat, South African style, first pork chops and then guinea fowl.
Score 93

Noble Late
Chenin blanc 100%
The sweet sibling of the family. A voluptuous wine with mellow nuances of vanilla, tangerine and ripe apricots. A "sunny" version of the well known Sauternes-style. I paired it to a home-made tiramisù, but finished off the bottle the next day while reading in the afternoon, no pairing, just a delightful meditation wine.
Score 93

the cellar

bird's eye view of the estate

the Kanu range

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hungary decanted: a walkaround tasting

A most interesting tasting hosted at the Hungarian Embassy in London. In their own words: walk around tasting will showcase Decanter World Wine Awards “Best in Show”, Platinum and Gold medallist Hungarian wines, including Best in Show wines Juliet Victor Tokaji Szamorodni 2017 (Best in Show 2020) and St Andrea Nagy-Eged Bikavér, Eger (Best in Show in 2021).

Over 30 DWWA award winning sparkling, dry and sweet wines from around 20 producers will be available to taste from all over Hungary. Producers include: Balassa Bor, Grof Degenfeld Wine Estate, Maul Winery, Kreinbacher, Zelna Boraszat, Szent Andrea Winery, Vesztergombi.

Prevalence of white wines and especially sweet ones. Just by way of reminders, Hungary uses the unit of "puttonyos" to indicate the degree of sweetness of its wines. Here are my favorite takeaways:

Grand Tokaj - Tokaj

From the largest winery in the historic Tokaj region, the company owns 67 hectares of land and purchases grapes from 1000+ farmers in the area.

Aszú 6 puttonyos 2014, furmint
Perfect balance, 10% abv, Score 96

Aszú 5 puttonyos 2014, furmint
Too fresh, needs a bit time, abv 9.5%, Score 90

Esszencia 2013, blend of 6 grapes
abv 2.5%!, very syrupy, I can hardly call this a wine, 450g of residual sugar, but it will please those with a very sweet tooth.

Aszú selection 6 puttonyos 2017, blend of furmint and other grapes
Ripe apricots, plump consistency. Perfect balance, very long. abv 10.5%.Score 96

Aszú 5 puttonyos 2016, Hárslevelü and furmint
A balanced and mod long wine. abv 10%. Score 92

Aszú 6 puttonyos 2017, Hárslevelü and furmint
A majestic wine, perfectly balanced, plump, long and complex. Exudes harmony and promises enjoyment for many years. abv 11%. Score 98

Harsányi - Tokaj

Kútpatka single vineyard 2017, furmint
Ripe apricots, a smooth elegant dry wine with a touch of freshness. abv 11.5%. Score 95

Aszú 6 puttonyos 2016, furmint
Excellent balance, a long and complex wine. abv 9.2%, Score 97.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Meet the producer: Vignobles Chatonnet, Bordeaux, France

A new discovery for us this producer from the right bank in Bordeaux. The homeland of merlot, one of my favorite grapes, mellow yet powerful, velvety and structured. A touch of elegance in many Bordeaux wines from either bank, but a protagonist in Lalande de Pomerol, where the vignobles Chatonnet is based. 

Today we met with Andrea Giraud who is in charge of the international market at Paul Chatonnet. We asked about the peculiarities of this vineyard. Let's hear it directly from her.


Tasting notes:

A typical expression of this noble variety. Opulent, elegant, complex and long. A masterpiece merlot, at the pinnacle of rive droite interpretation of this grape.
Result of "lutte raisonnée", aiming at minimizing human intervention as much as possible but without ideological strictures.
Score 97

An original composition with the unique addition of malbec instead of the more familiar cab franc which is the normal third party of the Bordeaux trinity. The result is a balanced and moderately complex wine that is ready now but could wait a little longer.
Score 95

Away from the camera we also tasted:

Haut Chaigneau 2016, merlot 90%, cab franc 10%
Dark Ruby red, intense nose of red fruits
Fresh for a 2016, could use a few more years to round its edges but already balanced enough to be highly enjoyable with structured food. I had it with lasagne.
Score 89


Thursday, June 9, 2022

Amphora wines master class at the London Wine Fair 2022

Captivating master class organized by Enotria&Coe at the London Wine Fair 2022 on amphora wines. Our speaker was Peter Wallbridge, Enotria&Coe buyer for Spain and Latin America and a published author on the American Journal of Enology. These are my main takeaways from this session.

This is a recurring trend, every so many decades amphora becomes fashionable again. Of course the method itself goes back thousands of years, to the origin of the very first wines, before producers knew how to use wood, cement or even glass to hold their wines during fermentation and aging. But of course clay was used pretty much everywhere in the wider Mediterranean and Mesopotamia region, all the way to Georgia, to hold oil as well as dry cargo such as grains.

In recent times amphora has gained popularity again and the more scientifically oriented specialists focus on its oxygen transmission rate (OTR), pointing out how it is a linear progression, as opposed to wood's OTR which starts high and peters out. So what? Well there is lots of anecdotal evidence for the effects this has on wine, though not enough scientific data.

Experiments in Italy and Spain (where he thinks the best clay comes from) have shown that amphora does not yield good results the first year wine is poured into its vessels. But then tartaric acid deposits create a layer that is ideal for the best micro-oxygenation.

The long road to the re-discovery of amphora wine is going to be a long one.

Tasting notes:

Airen Las Tinadas Organic, Bodegas Verum, La Mancha, Spain 2020
Tinadas Airen 100%, RRP £19
This unusual grape is similar to pinot grigio and gave us a balanced wine with notes of almonds and mod length. Manual harvesting with selection of only the best bunches from each plant. Old vines planted as far back as 1950. A serious Summer wine.
Score 85

Las Tinadas Cencibel, Bodegas Verum, La Mancha, Spain, 2016
This grape is close to tempranillo and comes from vines planted in 1956 on rocky soil, and have to make do with no irrigation. They produced a fruity wine with a medium body, complex and with a quirky but pleasant bitterness aftertaste.
Score 93

Viejas Tinajas Cinsault, De Martino, Itata Valley, Chile, 2020
Easy does it, this is Chile's answer to Beaujolais.
Score 84

Viejas Tinajas Muscat, De Martino, Itata Valley, Chile, 2020
An incredibly strong nose, with exuberant notes of fresh citrus and nuts. This is an "orange" wine in that there is extended skin contact. A unique product that will make you want to taste more.
Score 90

Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC Anfora Organic, F. Cirelli, 2019
Trebbiano 100% Certified organic now moving to biodynamic. Manual harvest.
Fermentation in natural yeasts in terracotta then aged 12 months in amphora.
They only use new amphora, do not want tartaric acid layers and the result is a wine that retains an amphora feel, a certain roughness.
Score 88

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC Anfora Organic, F. Cirelli, 2020
Montepulciano 100% A fruity and mod balanced wine, some rough edges but an intriguing clay feel that makes you want to taste future vintages to see how this producer will evolve after its recent conversion to organic and biodynamic.
Score 83

Meet the producer: Thelema Mountain Vineyards of Stellenbosch, South Africa

Thomas Webb
Another interesting master class at the London Wine Fair 2022, this time with Enotria&Coe presenting the products of Thelema Mountain Vineyards of Stellenbosch, South Africa. Our speaker today was Thomas Webb, Director of Thelema

The family now owns 180 hectares of land and does not plan to increase its size, rather they want to focus on quality. He explained how the origin of their name comes from François Rabelais a monk, doctor and writer in sixteenth-century France who imagined a utopian abbey on the banks of the Loire. In stark contrast to the religious orders of his day, this community admitted both men and women and encouraged them to live together in great luxury. This was the Abbey of Thélème, which ultimately lent its name to our vineyard on the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain: Thelema. (from their website)

I asked about how the various ethnicities of South Africa are getting involved in the wine industry, but the answer is more than in earlier times but not much. Wine was not part of the traditional culture of the Ndebele, Xosa, Zulu...

They use thermal imaging of the vineyard to monitor maturity and decide when to pick at the exactly perfect moment. Which means picking at different places on different days.

thermal imaging of Thelema vineyards

They use screw caps, they believe it will allow for more homogeneous aging in the bottle.

Here is my notes from their best wines tasted today:

Thelema Chardonnay 2011
Pressed in steel tanks and fermented in French oak barrels.
A mature wine, round and complex, with a perfect balance.
Score 93.

Thelema Chardonnay 2018
Still quite fresh and fruity, moderate length.  Definitely needs more time in the bottle.
Score 87.

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
De-stalked, manual sorting of berries, crushed in steel then pressed and left for 20 months in French barrels, 50-50 new and old. Incredible fresh for a 21-year-old wine.
Ready now, but can benefit for a longer period in the bottle to round the tannins a bit further.
Score 90

Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Incredibly, this is smoother than 2001, ready now.
Score 93.

Thelema Rabelais 2015
Cab sauvignon 80%, petit verdot 15%, merlot 5%.
Perfect marriage of fruit and structure. Excellent balance, length and complexity. Ready now.
Score 95

Thelema Rabelais 2019
Same grapes as 2015 but no merlot. A tad disappointing after tasting the wonderful 2015.
Score 87

Meet the producer: Ixsir of Lebanon

Unique master class at London Wine Fair 2022 organized by Enotria&Coe on Lebanese mountain wine produced by Ixsir. The name comes from "elixir", an arabic (Al-iksir) word meaning the purest of all substances, a secret potion that will give eternal youth and love.

Our speaker today was a Spanish man, Gabriel Rivero, a co-founder and te4chnical director. He was educated in oenology in Madrid and then grew professionally in Bordeaux and then worked in Lebanon before founding Ixsir in 2008.

Most wine lovers know Lebanese wines from the Bekaa valley, but this producer focuses on wines from the mountains of the country. Cool climate allows for better acidity and there is plenty of water, no need for irrigation.

Today Ixsir owns 6 vineyards all over the country and in addition 85 families work in communities and provide Ixsir with their grapes. These are all international varieties, there are precious few local ones and they are mostly used for distilled products.

Lebanon has been making wine for over two and a half millennia, but the Ottoman period almost completely wiped out all enological traditions. The wars in the second half of the XX century only made things worse. Now there are about 70 vineyards or so that are seriously back in business and each tries to mark his or her own personality, and avoid just copying other Mediterranean styles.

Uniquely, Lebanon does not have any system of controlled denomination (like AOC in France or DOC in Italy) so producers are free to experiment to their heart's content! What France did leave was a lot of grape varieties and know-how but the industry was in a shambles when the French left. Only after the end of the civil war in the 1990s did it really begin to flourish.

Today Ixsir produces close to 500,000 bottles per year, and do not want to grow bigger. Focus on improving quality instead.

Below some tasting notes from this masterclass.

Grande Reserve White 2019
Viognier 60%, Sauvignon blanc 25%, Chardonnay 15%
Biodynamic wine even if certification has not yet arrived. Perfect balance between acidity and smoothness, vanilla, good length and complexity. Trade price GBP 20.
Score 90

Grande Reserve Rosé 2019
Mourvedre 40%, Cinsault 40%, Syrah 20%
Sourced from three vineyards located at 450 to 1400 meters above sea level, steel only.
Elegant, smooth, easy Summer wine. Trade price GBP 18.
Score 86

Grande Reserve Red 2015
Syrah 50%, Cab sauvignon 39%, Arinarnoa 11% (a tannat/cab sauvignon cross made in France)
Sourced from different sites between 950 and 1150 meters above sea level.
Matured in French oak for 12 months, one third each new, second and third use.
Smooth elegance but still good fruit and structure make for a perfect balance. A complex wine to drink now. Trade price GBP 23.
Score 89

Grande Reserve Red 2012
Syrah 50%, Cab sauvignon 39%, Arinarnoa 11%
A bit rough, will need time to hopefully smoothen out. Trade price GBP 23.
Score 85

El Ixsir Red 2015
Syrah 45%, Cab sauvignon 45%, merlot 10%
Sourced from vineyards at various altitudes including one at 1800, possibly among the highest in the world. French oak barrels for 24 months, half new and half second use.
Balanced, and mod complex and long, ready now. Trade price GBP 42
Score 93

El Ixsir Red 2012
same grapes and vineyards as previous wine.
Spiciness of syrah prevails, backbone is provided by cab sauvignon, elegance by merlot. a good interpretation of the Bordeaux blend. Trade price 45 GBP
Score 92