Tuesday 5 September 2017

A Little bit of Luxury from Northern Italy - Valtellina DOCG

Nebbiolo is one of my favourite grapes; hardly surprising when you think that it produces two of Italy’s most famous and prestigious wines - Barolo and Barbaresco. If you move further north in Piedmont you find the wines of Carema and Gattinara, however, if you move eastwards and into the Lombardy region, just along the border with Switzerland to the shores of Lake Como, you find the wine Valtellina.

Produced from Nebbiolo, or as it’s locally known Chiavennasca, the Wine Makers are also allowed to blend in another local variety, Rossola Nera, with up to 20% for the DOC or 10% for the DOCG wines. However, restrictions on harvest yields, minimum levels of alcohol, and as the wines must also be aged for two years prior to being released, unless they are Riserva which necessitates three years, means it is far from a quick process in getting the Wine to meet these specific requirements. Within the region there are several villages who are considered higher quality; Grumello, Sassella, Inferno, Valgella and Maroggia- these are, of course, indicated on the label. They also produce an Amarone style DOCG wine called Sforzato.

One of my favourite producers of these wines is Rivetti& Lauro. They produce several wines, including the really quite unique wine ‘Calis’, a white made from Pignola (another name for Nebbiolo) and Sauvignon. They also have wines from the villages of Sasella and Inferno, and produce the amazing Sforzato.

The 2012 Inferno DOCG Valtellina is produced in small quantities; only 3,300 bottles, and is 100% Nebbiolo. Grape selection is done by hand and they are destemmed before being crushed and subsequently fermented in Stainless Steel tanks. After the fermentation process, the wine is aged for two years in French oak barrels.

In the glass, the wine has a bright ruby red/purple colour to it, with pronounced aromas of Cherry, Vanilla and Clove. These come through on the palate beautifully and combines with the tannins and acidity perfectly. It drinks beautifully now and will continue to age and develop for the next ten years.
The 2011 Sforzato DOCG Valtellina goes through a very similar process as the other Valtellina DOCG wines, however there is one big difference; the grapes are dried on big wooden racks for three/ four months before crushing, in a similar way to Amarone.

The drying of the grapes first adds a real concentration to the wine, with aromas of red berry fruit, Tobacco and Truffle. On the palate, the fruit translates to significantly more wild berries with hints of Violets and Tobacco. Combine this with the fine but grippy tannins, and you have a remarkable wine that’s big, powerful and rich.

These wines really are incredible. Although certainly a little harder to find, if you manage it I can assure you, you will not be disappointed. 

Wednesday 19 July 2017

A Legend from Chablis - Samuel Billaud

No sooner than we'd finished with the 2015 Burgundy En Primeur, than I got an invite to a 2016 vintage tasting for Samuel Billaud, who's wines I've been a fan of for a number of years.

For those who don't know, Samuel was originally the head winemaker at the family domain, Billaud-Simon. with Samuel at the helm, the domain quickly become one of the top producer in Chablis with an enviable reputation. A few years ago, Samuel decided to go out on his own purchasing fruit from friends in the region and under his own name. With the sale of Billaud-Simon in 2014 to Domaine Faveley, Samuel managed to gain back control of 1/6th of the domaine that was his and was able to use the fruit to expand his range and buy less from other farmers.

2016 has been another exceptionally trying vintage for Burgundy, rain, hail and frosts have decimated there crops with some farmers reportedly losing up to 70% of there crop, this has come on the back of several already small vintages. While yields have been small, the quality of the fruit has again been exception, helping to give the winemakers a good start. The wines are showing great poise and depth of flavour from the fruit that has then been balanced perfectly with the minerality and soft but bountiful acidity. These all helped to create an amazing glass of wine, that as you moved up through his range from the village Chablis to the 1er Cru then the Grand Cru showed a greater depth and complexity each time.

These wines I have to say were absolutely stunning, you just couldn't find a fault in any of them, and these were only the tank samples, bottling won't begin till August and will continue in waves till probably the end of the year. If your a fan of Chablis then these are ones you definitively do not want to miss out on, view our offer here!

Wednesday 22 February 2017

A Tasting with Man 'O War from Wahieke Island New Zealand

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Sara Fogarty from Man 'O War wines, and taste through there current releases and a couple of library samples, so we could gauge how they will age. Now as the title suggests Man 'O War are based on Wahieke Island, New Zealand, in the Hauraki Gulf, east of Auckland on the North island.

The estate was originally 4 farms that were all purchased in the early 80's and combined to create a massive 4,500 acre estate in the north eastern corner of the island. Only 150 acres across 76 sites are under vine, and this is still a working farm with sheep, olives, fruit and your even able to get married at the chapel on the estate. Each of the vineyard sites has been selected due to it's facing, soil and microclimate for specific varieties, the one grape they don't grow though is Pinot Noir as they are too far north for it, they concentrate on the varieties from Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone for their reds. They also have a very interesting take on naming vineyard sites, with names such as Lunatics, Madmans, Asylum and Bitch just to give you an idea, and their wines as you'll see below.

Cliff's Vineyard
Ponui Island
Madmans Vineyard


The vineyards started to be planted in 1992 by Matt Allen who is still Vineyard Manager today, the first vintage was produced 1996 and they didn't release any wine till 2006! Then in 2008 Duncan McTavish came on board as Winemaker having previously worked for Waipara Springs and before that Pegasus Bay (one of my favourite vineyards). The one thing that struck me the most during the introduction to the vineyard was the ethos of 'for the future', they are all about taking there time getting it right and making sure everything is in place for the future generations to continue and develop.

On to the tasting, we started with;

2013 Gravestone
This is a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon, a classic Bordeaux blend, not usually one of my favourites but this one I really enjoyed. 20% of the Sauvignon and all of the Semillon go into pucheons to give the wine a touch more richness and some gentle spice while retaining the fruit and refreshing minerality perfectly balanced with the acidity.

2014 Valhalla
100% oaked Chardonnay, with 25% new oak, 5% Acacia and 70% old oak. This is a wonderfully big rich wine, with a lovely buttery texture that's cut through beautifully by the acidity as this wine does not go through maololactic fermentation. On the nose and palate you lovely hints of sweet spices, green apples and grapefruit folowed up with the touch of minerality.

2014 Bellerophon
This is Duncan's hommage to Cote Rotie, and is a cofermented Syrah (97%) and Viognier (3%), they ferment 30% in whole clusters and age it for 18 mths, 25% in new oak and the remaining 75% in ols seasoned oak. This is a pretty yet powerful wine, with lovely dark fruit, and hints of raspberry, violets and white pepper which all combined beautifully with the acidity and the tannins.

2009 Dreadnought (no longer available)
100% Syrah which 100% see's oak, 12% new for 11 months, giving you big rich dark fruit and lashings of white pepper,a lovely acidity and silky fine tannins. As all these combine it gives the wine a real savoury character which is lovely and lingers around on your palate for what seems like forever.

2013 Dreadnought (current vintage)
For this year 50% went into new oak and the other 50% went into old seasoned oak. This wine shows all the same characteristics as the 2009, it does have slightly more youthful character to the fruit and spice, the tannins while still fine are far more present and acidity has softened out as much as the 2009 but it's drinking fantastically now and will continue to develop over the coming years.

2014 Dreadnought (not released yet)
The only way to really describe this is that it's a slightly more youthful version of the 2013, needs time to integrate and soften out, but when it does, it will be pretty magnificent.

2010 Ironclad (current vintage)
This is their red Bordeaux blend, 39% Cab Franc, 30% Merlot, 18% Cab Sauv, 7% Malbec and 6% Petit Verdot, Yes this is a big old blend, but a pretty stunning one at that. With lovely fruit, spice and hints of minerality to it. Combined with soft and silky tannins contributing an almost cocoa texture to the wine, this is definitely a favourite of mine.

2012 Ironclad
45% Cab Franc, 20% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Malbec and 8% Cab Sauv, you can really tell the reduction of Cab Sauv and increase in Petit Verdot on the nose of this wine. It has much more brighter fruit to it and the spice is very subtle in the background, but these will develop over the next couple of years, it has plenty of tannins so needs that little bit of time to help it soften out a touch.

I have to say these wines are delicious, not being a big fruit bomb style or full of dark sweet fruit, they have much more depth and complexity to them, which just helps to make them even more enjoyable and even better as they age, even just a little.

Saturday 14 January 2017

A Great Vintage - Burgundy 2015

So this week has seen pretty much the whole of Burgundy descend on London for there 2015 En Primeur tastings, and what tastings they have been.

2015 was yet another trying vintage in Burgundy, the harvest was down on the 20 year average, which after the last few small vintages has been on a downward trend. July and August proved to be challenging, with the hot dry weather they had accelerating the ripening process and thickening the skins. This brought forward the harvest for the white grapes two weeks earlier than they had originally planned for, Chablis also had it's issues with hailstorms devastating large swathes of vineyards, but with the early harvesting this has made Chablis some of the best from this vintage.

Overall the 2015 vintage has been quite spectacular, the reds are showing all the best characteristics of the 2005 and 2009 vintages having both freshness and opulence. The whites have been a bit of a mixed bag, with some being overblown and lacking acidity, from harvesting too late. While the people who harvested early really got the benefit from this with beautifully poised and balanced wines that will age well.

I have to say it has been difficult to find a bad wine this week, the quality has been at the highest level, with wines showing great ageing potential. The whites will need a little more time to hit there sweet spot, the reds however will need a little longer, the tannins are fine, but bountiful so will need a little time to soften and become silky.

The only downside has been the price, while these wines are amazing they are not cheap, 2016 has been an even smaller harvest so prices for the 2015 have had to shoulder some of that burden, then the falling euro exchange rate has put even more pressure on the prices.

A couple of producers to keep an eye out for;

Samuel Billaud - with the sale of the family domaine, Billaud-Simon to Domaine Faiveley, Samuel has managed to gain control of all his vineyard sites and now has several new Grand Cru wines in his range. His wines showed great depth and complexity, the unoaked whites had lovely fruit, a steely minerality and a beautifully zippy acidity, while the wines that have seen some oak have a rich toasty character that will age beautifully. Samuel is definitely one of the stars of Chablis and the price reflects that, they are not the cheapest of wines, but they certainly won't disappoint and should be everyone's cellar.

Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur - These guys produce some stunning Meursault, from single vineyard sites and a couple of 1er Cru. They all have lovely fruit, almost baked apple with hints of spice and a rich toasty oak finish. These wines will need a little time to integrate all those flavours and deliver a stunning wine.

Domaine Daniel Rion et Fils - These have been a favourite of mine for a couple of years now, and again the have not failed to deliver. The wines have such a depth of fruit with hints of spice and oak, a touch of acidity and loaded with soft, fine tannins. Give these wines a couple of years and they will be absolutely glorious.

Domaine Heresztyn-Mazzini - This was a new domaine for me, Florence Heresztyn has taken over her share of the family domaine and with her husband Simon Mazzini have transformed the quality of these wines. They produce some wonderful Gevrey-Chambertin and an amazing Clos-Saint-Denis, but the star for me was their Bourgogne Pinot Noir, which had loads of bright juicy fruit, little hints of spice and soft tannins and is almost ready to drink now, also shows a rarity in this vintage, good value.

Domaine Edmond Cornu & Fils - Again another new domaine to me, who produce some lovely whites from Chorey-les-Beaune and Ladoix, but the reds were even better. They produce a stunning Ladoix Vieilles Vignes and Aloxe-Corton Vieilles Vignes both loaded with dark fruit, spice and soft tannins, give this a little time to integrate and again they will be fantastic and show great value.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Battle of the Italians - Friday 28th October

Italy for me has to be one of the most fascinating wine producing countries, with so many indigenous grape varieties, and such differences in the wines that are produced from the north to right down in the heel, and then you get the islands surrounding its coast.

Vistorta, is a 500 acre estate in the western Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and has been owned since the 1980 by Count Brandino Brandolini d’Adda, on discovering the similarities between the estate and Bordeaux took the decision to almost exclusively plant Merlot, with the aim to produce the greatest Merlot’s from Italy.

The 2011 Merlot Vistorta is the estates top wine and shows such great depth and complexity, giving you lovely forest fruit aromas and flavours, hints of spices and rich coffee beans, combined with beautifully silky tannin creates a wine to rival most of the wines produced on Bordeaux’s right bank.
Moving into central Italy and on its east coast you come to the Marche region and you find Umani Ronchi, who since 1959 have focused solely on the regions indigenous varieties of Verdicchio and Montepulciano.

The 2014 Verdicchio Classico Superior Casal di Serra shows all the classic traits of wild flowers, Peaches and Apricots, combined with a lovely refreshingly soft acidity, showing how great and delicious these wines can be.

Then down to Puglia in the heel of Italy you find Botromagno who produce many of the classic wines from this region, Primitivo, Salice Salentino and many more, they are also the only producer of the historic wine Gravina Bianco.

The 2015 Gravina Bianca is produced using 100% organic grapes and is a blend of Greco and Malvasia. You get lovely aromatics of Apples, Peaches, Apricots and hints of Pineapple, combine this with a crisp and bountiful acidity and you get a stunning and beautifully refreshing wines that you don’t find from anywhere else.

This Friday the 28th, we will have the pleasure of hosting Beniamino and Alberto D’Agostino from Botromagno, Alessandra Fadda from Vistorta and Giorgio Pasanisi from Umani Ronchi for a fantastic tasting, where you will be able to taste the wines above and many more.

A selection of the wines on tasting this Friday