My April Wines of the Month are made by power couples and next gen winemakers – one of whom went into the family business. The other of whom set up her own label. They are both making world class wines and I thought this Austrian Riesling (yes Austrian, not Australian!) and Bairrada Baga (back on familiar ground) exemplify their profound ability to express terroir.
Alwin Jurtschitsch and Stefanie Hasselbach of Weingut Jurtschitsch – photo credit Weingut Jurtschitsch
Stephan Reinhardt selected some real wow factor wines for an Austrian masterclass during the ASI World Sommelier contest last month, this one from Alwin Jurtschitsch and his wife, Stefanie Hasselbach (of Gunderloch fame in the Rheinhessen), under whose custodianship the vineyards have been converted to organic viticulture. Reinhardt, the Austria (and Germany) critic for Robert Parker Wine Advocate, praised the Heiligenstein vineyard as one of the great terroirs for Rieslings in the world. It was, he said, originally called hell’s stone vineyard, but changed to saint’s stone vineyard by Christians. Both names are apt for a sun-baked terroir which produces heavenly wines. The volcanic stony outcrop is comprised of a bedrock of ancient reddish-brown sandstone with a high feldspar content, coarse conglomerates, and minor siltstone. Very steep, the terraced, south/south-west-facing site becomes very hot, but happily benefits from cold mountain winds. As for this deep yellow, dry, intensely powerful wine, it reveals kerosene notes to the nose and is positively riven with minerality and tension – a great sense of dry extract. Juicy, lively acidity – a life force – makes for a youthfully persistent palate with plenty of drive and length. Minerals all the way, with intriguing ‘colour pops’ of exotic ginger, fennel and lifted hops. 13.5% (Residual Sugar 4g/l, 6.7g/l).
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Nossa Missão 2015 (Bairrada)
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Nossa Missão 2015
From a tiny vineyard which the couple bought from an eighty-year-old, who inherited it from his grandfather. So it is thought to be at least 130 years old. Perhaps even a pre-phylloxera survivor, since it is on own roots. The Missão vineyard is located on a mild incline, oriented east, on shallow limestone with red clay and pebbles. The Baga was hand harvested and sorted, with only a part de-stemmed. The wine was, as usual, naturally fermented, with punch downs over three weeks. The free run was run off by gravity and the marc slowly, very gently, pressed for blending back. The wine was then aged for 18 months in pipas, which is when I first encountered it in December 2016 (yes, from the barrel pictured above – my report of that visit here). It’s always lovely to taste the finished article, especially when the production is so low. It’s a very special wine. This deep crimson, semi-opaque Baga’s beguiling nose entrances from the off. Gorgeous spice, with coltsfoot/aniseed, red liquorice, lavender and earth (stems) and a play of violets, rising….a real chorus of which to approve! Bright, well-defined red cherry, black berry and currant and sweet plum chime in more loudly on the palate, if treading lightly, such is their freshness, levity and life. The fruit seems to permeate the pithy, ripe but present tannins, which cradle the flavours from tip to toe, suggesting that this Baga has a long life ahead. Its makers suggest 30 years plus and, whilst my bottle – one of 510 (and 30 magnums) produced – won’t make it, I hope to have the chance to taste it in my (and its) dotage. However, I can tell you that, on days two and three, the whole bunch riffs offered up more lavender, meaty (smoky charcuterie) and mushroom notes; the sweet liquorice/anise notes built too, whilst the red and black fruits – a touch sweeter – continued their lively dance. Terrific, with more intensity, earth and spice than Nossa Calcario, which is a blend of old vineyards. Like I said, Unmissão! 12.5%
I’ve described it as unmissable, great. An example has been a Wine of the Month. And the superlatives about Bairrada’s 2015 Bagas keep coming. This week in the delightful shape of three bottles of Baga, which I tasted at home. Two of them all-new single vineyard Bagas from the region’s generation next winemakers, Filipa Pato and her husband William Wouters and Luis Patrão and his partner Eduarda Dias of Vadio.
Incidentally, in this post reviewing Luis Pato’s excellent 2015 Bagas (and much older vintages), the experienced hand talks about the magic of years featuring a five and 20 year cycles. But it has to be said, Bairrada has had a great run of vintages, so if you have missed out on the 2015s, do not despair. By all accounts 2016 was a very good vintage and 2017s are looking good.
Filipa Pato & William Wouters Nossa Missão 2015 (Bairrada)
Pictured December 2016 – Filipa Pato & William Wouters treat me to a taste of this special barrel, which grew up to become Nossa Missão 2015
From a tiny vineyard which the couple bought from an eighty year old man, who inherited it from his grandfather. So it is thought to be at least 130 years old. Perhaps even a pre-phylloxera survivor, since it is on own roots. The Missão vineyard is located on a mild incline, oriented east, on shallow limestone with red clay and pebbles. The Baga was hand harvested and sorted, with only a part de-stemmed. The wine was, as usual, naturally fermented, with punch downs over three weeks. The free run was run off by gravity and the marc slowly, very gently, pressed for blending back. The wine was then aged for 18 months in pipas, which is when I first encountered it in December 2016 (yes, from the barrel pictured above – my report of that visit here). It’s always lovely to taste the finished article, especially when the production is so low. It’s a very special wine. This deep crimson, semi-opaque Baga’s beguiling nose entrances from the off. Gorgeous spice, with coltsfoot/aniseed, red liquorice, lavender and earth (stems) and a play of violets, rising….a real chorus of which to approve! Bright, well-defined red cherry, black berry and currant and sweet plum chime in more loudly on the palate, if treading lightly, such is their freshness, levity and life. The fruit seems to permeate the pithy, ripe but present tannins, which cradle the flavours from tip to toe, suggesting that this Baga has a long life ahead. Its makers suggest 30 years plus and, whilst my bottle – one of 510 (and 30 magnums) produced – won’t make it, I hope to have the chance to taste it in my (and its) dotage. However, I can tell you that, on days two and three, the whole bunch riffs offered up more lavender, meaty (smoky charcuterie) and mushroom notes; the sweet liquorice/anise notes built too, whilst the red and black fruits – a touch sweeter – continued their lively dance. Terrific, with more intensity, earth and spice than Nossa Calcario, which is a blend of old vineyards. Like I said, Unmissão! 12.5%
Vadio Rexarte 2015 (Bairrada)
And now for something completely different. Rexarte Baga is from a young parcel which Luis Patrão and his partner Eduarda Dias re-planted in 2009. Dias explained that the vineyard is mostly planted to white varieties because the soils are sandy but, on a small, north-facing hill (c. 300m), the soil transitions from sand to clay and limestone, which is where they planted the Baga. She confided “[T]his was not a spot where initially we had high expectations in terms of quality, but surprisingly the wines from this vineyard have been consistently excellent,” adding “[W]e have been noticing that our best quality grapes come from vineyards on hills.” But it’s not the only quality factor. When I visited with the couple in 2017 (my report here), Patrão told me that he had re-planted the vines at higher density (5,000 vines/ha) with the ‘Poeirinho’ clone (a very old, small bunch/berry less productive Baga clone) and was using cover crop and cordon-train new vines (spur pruned) on a high trellis to reduce yields and open up the canopy (“good for maturation and to avoid disease”). So what of the wine? Compared with the regular bottling (reviewed below), Rexarte is a significantly deeper hue and opaque with purple flashes. The nose, fresh and mineral, immediately takes you to Baga, Bairrada and chalky clay soils. In line with the house style, the tannins have a softness about them. Cashmere-like, they are super-fine in texture, powdery and plentiful. Most definitely ripe, as is the silky black berry and cherry fruit, with some red cherry bite. Hints of violets and pine resin intrigue, showing more emphatically on day three. With Bairrada’s clean cut of chalky (chalk-filtered/sluiced) acidity, the finish is long and well-focused. Subtle, mid-weight and elegantly done, it’s a lovely new addition to the portfolio. Looking ahead, Dias told me they have bottled the 2017 vintage of Rexarte and will see how 2018 develops. Additionally, the couple have two other parcels that are also showing well and which they might be bottling separately in the future…. Exciting times at Vadio, whose wines are imported into the UK by Casa Leal and (see below) represent excellent value.
Vadio Baga 2015 (Bairrada)
Vadio Baga 2015 and Vadio Rexarte 2015
I suspect not much Rexarte has been made and it has yet to be released. However, 2015 has worked its magic on Vadio’s entry level Baga too. Paler than Rexarte, it is lighter in hue and on the palate, with greater emphasis on red fruits. It reveals crunchy red cherry and pomegranate, crushed raspberry (which lends a gently ‘creamy’ feel) and juicier blackberry. Lovely fruit purity and terroir translucency, with chalky, flinty minerality and a lift of spice and pine resin in the tail. Showed very well over three days. The grapes were handpicked and crushed to the fermenters, where it fermented naturally. It was matured in French oak barrels and vats for 24 months, followed by 12 months in bottle before release. 12.5% A super smart buy at £11.40 at Portugal Vineyards, £12.95 at The Wine Society.
ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019 finalists, pictured left to right, ASI president Andrés Rosberg, Nina Højgaard Jensen (runner up), winner Marc Almert, third placed Raimonds Tomsons, President Belgium Gild of Sommeliers William Wouters, Serge Dubs, Best Sommelier of the World 1989
I spent last week in Antwerp at the ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019, (the 16th edition). Let me tell you, I have never been so relieved to be on my side of the table. The Association de la Sommellerie Internationale’s competition for elite sommeliers (national or intracontinental competition winners) involves three gruelling rounds of technical, theoretical and practical tests. In a nail-biting final, ‘performed’ in a mocked up restaurant in front of over 1,000 onlookers, Germany’s Marc Almert (aged 27) triumphed over Nina Højgaard Jensen from Denmark (the 26 year old runner up) and 38 year old Raimonds Tomsons from Latvia (and 63 other candidates).
ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019 press conference with the finalists
Comporting themselves with considerable elegance and charm, the finalists exemplified the young and demographically diverse line up for the competition as a whole – just check out the 19 semi-finalists, pictured below.
The semi-finalists – ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019, representing Argentina, Australia, Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Sweden
And the rise of female sommeliers (though a woman has yet to win it). In years past (the competition started in 1969), French and Italian sommeliers dominated, taking the top spot until Shinya Tasaki made waves, bagging the title for Japan in 1995. Germany, France, then Italy won the next three titles before Sweden, the UK, Switzerland and Sweden again fielded the winner. Runner up Højgaard Jensen told me “it’s so positive – all manner of people are starting in a serious way and achieving; and people are starting younger.” The precocious sommelier started out in hospitality in 2012 and only began to focus on wine in 2015!
Looking on in admiration, ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019 finals’ judges Nick Lander (The Financial Times restaurant critic) & Jancis Robinson MW, OBE
Describing it as “a golden era for sommellerie,” ASI president Andrés Rosberg observed, “sommellerie is growing so much around the world” (he reckons there are perhaps 45,000 sommeliers worldwide). Which means, he added, that “the competition is getting harder and harder.” If you haven’t already (it was live-streamed), you can watch the ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019 final on YouTube here:
Best Sommelier of the World 2019 - Finals - YouTube
Going first, Højgaard Jensen maintained her warm, convivial style despite an atmosphere you could cut with a knife, such was the tension. Not least during an extremely unfortunate accident which would have undone many. In a subsequent exercise, the cool but endearing Dane even went on to joke, “this is fun.” It had the audience rooting for her.
Poised, exceptionally calm, ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019 winner, Germany’s Marc Almert
Last to compete in the final, Almert was a most deserving winner. During the press conference afterwards, another journalist nailed his ace card, observing “the way you allowed us in the audience to feel comfortable was phenomenal.” As to which the German wunderkind’s answer was refreshingly simple – “what I do is taking care of guests, that’s what I like doing.” Words which echoed those of Gino Nardella MS, whose 42 years on the floor at London’s The Stafford hotel were celebrated in The Observer yesterday. The old hand said, “I have endless conversations with our guests, and that’s what I like. Many of my colleagues tend to migrate from restaurants into the wine business. But I find that contact with people fascinating.”
Catching up – multiple national winners Alba Hough (Iceland), Véronique Rivest (Canada), Julie Depouy (Ireland)
My first indirect encounter with this competition came about in 2007, at the Women of Wine Awards in Paris (I was a finalist). Fresh from competing at the 2007 ASI Best Sommelier of the World in Greece, Véronique Rivest’s blistering performance bagged her the title. My nemesis went on to win second place in Tokoyo in 2013, becoming the first female finalist – now one of three! Though the owner of Quebec’s Soif Wine Bar is currently (never say never again) retired from competitions, she is now heavily involved as mentor and judge at ASI events. It was fun to run into the charismatic Canadian again in Antwerp, pictured here with former competitors – fellow high fliers – Iceland’s Alba Hough and Ireland’s Julie Dupouy (who came third in Argentina and 8th this year).
José Carlos Serrano Santanita, President of the Associação dos Escanções de Portugal, with Portugal’s candidate (r), Ivo Peralta
Taking place every three years, the ASI Best Sommelier of the World competition is a grand reunion for competitors past and present, not to mention their retinue. This is the Olympics of sommellerie, with candidates supported by a coterie of national ASI presidents, ASI committee and board members and sommelier associations. Lest there be any doubt about the seriousness of the endeavour, as reported in The Drinks Business, The Union of French Sommeliers hired a team of psychologists, drama teachers and sports coaches, whilst its Japanese equivalent sponsored a year of study leave. I could well understand why Rosberg greeted “the family” at the welcome dinner. And I was thrilled that this inclusive family extended an invitation to me to participate in an exceptional programme of masterclasses and events, itself a drawcard.
Peak concentration – Portugal’s candidate Ivo Perlata. With good reason – look who is behind him…. Australia’s candidate, semi-finalist Loic Avril – Wine Director at Dinner by Heston Blumental, Melborne, is on the left.
William Wouters, President of the Belgian Sommelier Guild and president of the contest organizing committee for ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019
Overseen by William Wouters, president of the Belgian Sommelier Guild and ASI Vice President for Europe, Belgium – the first ever host – hosted the competition for a third time. Reflecting on the week, he said “[I]t’s a fantastic opportunity for sommeliers from around the world to come together and not only compete, but also to exchange ideas, and learn from each other’s different perspectives and realities. Thank you to our partners, our volunteers, our whole team and everyone who made this possible.”
Nelson Guerreiro, volunteer, ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019
Volunteer, Portugal’s Nelson Guerreiro (Head Sommelier at Lisbon’s two-Michelin-starred Alma) happily took a week’s holiday in exchange for “a lifetime opportunity” to support the tastings (and appraise Belgian Hospitality School students of the joys of Bairrada in a masterclass). Portugal’s candidate, Ivo Peralta of Epur, Lisbon, may be his rival in the national and European championships, but Guerreiro was gunning for the 27 year old, whose studiousness, passion and modesty was praised by several winemakers whom I visited in Portugal earlier this month.
Matthieu Perrin, 5th generation Famille Perrin member, presents a rare, very fine, Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape vertical
Aside from the final and talking and tasting wine with such an elite corps, my personal highlights included exceptional masterclasses on areas which, being an Australian and Portuguese specialist, I felt particularly privileged to attend. I am a huge Beaucastel fan, but have only tasted flagship Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin Châteauneuf-du-Pape once – the 2000, which I sold when I worked at Oddbins Fine Wine. So you can imagine my joy at the once in a lifetime opportunity to taste these vintages: 1989 (gorgeous, aromatic, very supple, still with fruit) 1995 (edgier, but lovely complexity and freshness as it opened up), 1999, 2000 (like the ’89, uber-charming, gorgeous fruit), 2005 (still very brooding, impressive), 2007, 2009 and 2015 (marvellous freshness, great potential). And with Matthieu Perrin, 5th generation Famille Perrin member.
Miguel Torres – small ads in local newspapers led the company to vines with near extinct ancient Catalan varieties
Miguel Torres showcased four Ancient Catalan grape varieties – the one and only wines made from these grapes, which Familia Torres have rescued from extinction in a bid to locate fresher grapes, more resistant to climate-change. Here are my headline notes: Forcada 2017 (texturally slippery but fresh white), Pirene 2016 (light, fresh ‘n floral, super-charming), Gonfaus 2016 (inky, rich, denser, but good acidity) and Moneu 2017 (fresh, very lingering, with lovely mineral complexity). I would love to attend a like-tasting, focused on some of the ancient varieties now being unearthed in Portugal.
Zaha Hadid’s Port House, Antwerp – masterclass venue & home of t Zilte restaurant
Ditto a Douro Valley focused version of Pascaline Lepeltier‘s highly accomplished blending masterclass on Cote du Rhône blends, which emphasised the region’s very diverse terroir, exploring which grapes (and styles) flourish where. The Master Sommelier – Managing Partner at Racines NY in New York – is a brilliant communicator (and, I gather, one to watch competition-wise – she was Best Sommelier of France 2018). She took the opportunity to highlight Cote du Rhône blends’ excellent value for money in a selection which was 100% naturally-fermented. My stand outs included Domaine des Maravilhas Maestral white 2016 (great use of Clairette – 99% of this saline, fresh blend), Domaine Charvin Rose 2017 (textural, dry, the Cinsault for levity) and, from a very strong red line up, the co-fermented, 100% whole bunch fermented Château De Saint Cosme Les Deux Albion 2016. Lepeltier reckons we’ll see more co-fermenting in future.
Rieslings on show at the Austrian masterclass – the Jurtschitsch from a very specific, cooler Heiligenstein parcel a knock out!
Lepeltier’s masterclass was preceded by an insightful Austrian masterclass with Willi Klinger (Managing Director Austrian Wine Marketing Board) and Stephan Reinhardt (Austrian Reviewer Robert Parker Wine Advocate). They selected some real wow factor wines and talked us engagingly through individual terroir, each producer’s philosophy, inter-generational changes and trends.
Austrian masterclass – the Gruner Veltliners – the 2004, most impressive
The Gruner Veltliners were very strong, of course (diverse too), but in some ways, it was the other whites that caught my attention. In particular, I can well understand why Reinhardt (who is German and also covers Germany for The Wine Advocate) praised Jurtschitsch Heiligenstein “1OTW” Riesling Ried Zobinger 2015, Kamptal Reserve as one of the best Rieslings in the world. It was an awesome incarnation of this variety with a postcode. The Styrian Sauvignon Blancs – complex, singular examples of a grape which can lack detail and layer – surprised me. Klinger attributed Reinhardt with putting them in the spotlight.
Lunch – a starter – at t Zilte, Antwerp
Naturally, a trip to Belgium (and because sommeliers are experts in all beverages) would be incomplete without beer. Wouters had organised an evening at
Visiting with David Hohnen 2009 – down on the farm
Visiting Margaret River last November, I received an intriguing email from David Hohnen AM, subject-matter “slip the leash.” The acclaimed winemaker has always been associated with estate wines – Cape Mentelle, Cloudy Bay, McHenry Hohnen – but, recently, he has himself slipped the leash. Some might say ‘gone rogue.’ These days, he is a negociant, which is why you’ll find his signature on Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Western Australian Shiraz 2018.
And it’s why we sped north, up the highway, edging inland, away from Margaret River’s boutique cellar doors. Our destination? The region’s largest custom crush winery in Jindong – an altogether less bucolic experience than my last visit with Hohnen (pictured) when, chewing the cud at his farm, we talked ‘grandpa farming.’
Bringing diversity in the Western [Australia] offer
With his daughter Freya (who oversees blending), Hohnen has joined in a wine-broking business with former Veuve Cliquot colleague, Ruper Clevely (founder of Geronimo Inns). Crackerjack Négociants sources wines from the South West of Western Australia (and Bordeaux) for ‘buyers own’ brands or Crackerjack’s proprietary label. He told me, the aim is “bringing diversity in the Western [Australia] offer and, in the long term, bringing success to sub-GIs not at this point on the radar in Britain.” I’ve visited a good many of those sub-GIs and it’s a laudable aim – there are some lovely wines being made in the South West.
Some months prior to my visit, Hohnen had sent me a sample of a smartly blended 2017 Sauvignon Blanc made for Aldi’s Exquisite Collection, priced at just £5.99. Sourced from Frankland River, a splash of the region’s star white variety, Riesling, gave it a lively kick of lime and lift in the tail. Having previously discussed with Hohnen how Western Australia (“WA”) is not set up for volume brands (it does not have the irrigation infrastructure of the Riverland, Murray-Darling or Riverina), I was curious about this new direction. Specifically, whether such price points are sustainable for a region which, says Hohnen, accounts for just 2% of Australian production. Additionally, did he have any concerns about undermining Western Australia’s much vaunted premium reputation?
Margaret River is not farming land, it is real estate
Although he admitted that pitching at such price points “is difficult,” Hohnen emphasised that, whilst Margaret River is heavily associated with WA wine, there is a big distinction between it and the other regions. As he sees it, “Margaret River is not farming land, it is real estate” where, he added, “costs for any poor mutt trying to farm are high.” On the other hand, elsewhere, “big and small vineyards enjoy the economies of being located in our mixed farming localities.” Even if, referencing our canine friends again, Hohnen told me putting together this Sainsbury’s Shiraz “was like rounding up a bunch of kelpies with a blue heeler.”
Through clever blending and use of oak staves and ‘biscuits,’ not barrels (see below), Hohnen’s aim is to bring WA wines into the realm of the “everyday wine drinking Brit.” Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Western Australian Shiraz 2018 totally nails the brief. And I suspect Hohnen is right when he says, “[T]his might be the first time that British wine drinkers who shop where most of the wine in Britain is purchased, will be offered a South Western Australian Shiraz in a supermarket.”
Biscuits with your Shiraz?
Hohnen told me “to make a wine that offers a great drinking experience at a great price and from a very recent vintage, counts out the option of ageing in oak barrels. The wines are aged with oak in the form of biscuits and staves. I am a proponent of this method of adding oak flavour and aroma to complex a wine. The process of toasting staves or biscuits is no different to roasting coffee beans and can be achieved with a high degree of predicable results. It has huge economic and gustatory benefits for a consumer.” (And it helps that Freya represents the barrels and oak products of Francois Frères and Demptos. Her father observes, “[H]er most popular stave is the Eco Impact, which can impart flavour, aroma and texture components in 10 to 12 weeks.”)
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Western Australian Shiraz 2018 is a really super introduction to WA’s bright-fruited, elegant style – quite different from similarly priced less nuanced, supermarket Shirazes (which typically come from warmer South Eastern Australia or South Australia regions). And, due to hit Sainsbury’s shelves on 31st March, it is an absolute steal for £7.50. Suffice to say I included it in an upcoming Decanter Expert’s Opinion on Australian multi-regional blends.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Western Australian Shiraz 2018 (Western Australia)
This smooth but characterful Shiraz shows good depth of colour, with cool climate black pepper, earth and meaty, reductive nuances to its juicy blackberry and plum fruit. Six months’ ageing with new oak (staves and biscuits) lends creaminess, a balancing sweetness, through the mid-palate. Finishes savoury, with Western Australian freshness and elegance and showed well over both days I tasted it (as it did when I first tasted it at the winery, shortly after it was blended). The fruit (Shiraz 93%, Cabernet 3%, Merlot 2%, Others 2%) came from eight producers in the sub-GIs of Blackwood Valley, Geographe, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Margaret River. It was harvested in the cool of the night by machine. A small percentage of grapes were cold soaked before it was fermented in tank (reductively), to maximise fruit expression. A portion underwent extended skin contact. 14.5% Available in Sainsbury’s from 31st March priced at £7.50, though I am reliably informed that it will be offered at an introductory price of £6.50 for a short period.
Kopke is renowned for its wood-aged Ports. This ‘new’ Very Old Dry White Port release blew me away with its remarkable freshness and incredible purity. Not easy to achieve when you age a wine for at least 50 years in cask.
Blended from very old and rare wines, just 350 bottles were produced. For Carlos Alves, Sogevinus’ Fine Wines’ Port winemaker and Master Blender, “it is the perfect match for either a fine almond tart, or an apple crumble, or even paired with a blue cheese, foie-gras, scallop gratin or prawn tempura.”
Here are my notes:
Kopke Very Old Dry White Port
A pale, glinting tawny hue; very clear. The nose is delicately woody, very aromatic, with a lovely timbre. Though strikingly fresh, zesty even, the palate is not in the least edgy or aggressive. Rather, it is impressively seamless, very pure, with stone fruit (apricot) nuances and ultra-mellifluous, silky nougat and praline oak. With beautiful balance, mouthfeel, line and length, a salty finish with a super-subtle iodine inflection accentuates this Very Old Tawny Port’s freshness and intensity. Effortlessly elegant. 21% abv, 65g/l residual sugar. Imported into the UK by Hayward Bros., it retails for around £290.
Vale da Capucha’s Pedro Marques at an old Castelao vineyard he is now working with – one of a few exciting new projects in the pipeline…
A week in Portugal – two wine fairs, four days in Lisboa – threw up plenty of candidates for my March Wines of the Month. So you can take it as read that my final selection is pretty spiffy! My March Wines of the Month are made by two winemakers who perfectly showcase the boundary-pushing talent which is taking in Portugal in exciting new directions.
Vale da Capucha Arinto Estagio Longo 2015 (Lisboa)
Vale da Capucha Arinto Estagio Longo 2015 pictured left, with ‘new’ solera wine right
Vale da Capucha’s Pedro Marques was confounded by his 2015s. Though it was a hot year, they are possessed of (by!) a serrated back bone of acidity and reward time in bottle. So I was thrilled to taste this bravura ‘estagio longo’ (long aged) Arinto, which harnesses beautifully the energy of this, Portugal’s Riesling grape. Marques made just one barrel. He foot trod the grapes and extracted a little more in the (vertical) press, thereby reducing its super-high malic acidity (extraction increases the potassium content of the juice, raising the pH). The resulting must was pressed direct to barrel, where it stayed on lees for 30 months. With time in barrel and foot treading, it is a yellow hue. Jura-like in the mouth, it has firm, lip-smacking acidity (the malolactic fermentation did not finish). And those acid reserves keep pushing this racy wine along at a crack – wow, long aged, long in the mouth! Reduced following 30 months on lees, the flavours are savagely mineral, with barely a lick of citrus (lemon peel) to the chalky, ultra-flinty palate. This visceral, bone dry, austere wine – a pistol-whipper – is not for everyone but, if you’re a fan of Jura’s blade-like wines (“same soils,” said Marques), this is for you. As you can see from the bottle, Vale da Capucha Arinto Estagio Longo 2015 has yet to be released. Judging from my visit with this Simplesmente Vinho exhibitor, Marques has plenty more vinous surprises up his sleeve – it was fun to taste through and talk about what’s in the pipeline. 12-12.5%
Susana Esteban Procura 2014 (Alentejo)
Revista de Vinhos’ Top 10 Portuguese Wines – white and red runners up Sandra Tavares da Silva (Wine & Soul Guru 2016) and Susana Esteban (Procura 2014) pose with red wine winner Jorge Rosas (Quinta da Touriga-Chã 2016)
This blend of Alicante Bouschet (55%) from a vineyard in Evora and old field blend vineyard in Portalegre thrilled from its first 2011 release (reviewed here). Tasted blind at Revista de Vinhos’ Top 10 Portuguese Wines competition (where it was the second placed red, full results here), Susana Esteban Procura 2014 has a youthfully tight nose and brooding palate, which put me in mind of a velvet curtain with pin holes of light, pointing to a long future ahead. Terrific spice (clove, cardamom), damask perfume and minerality, the fruit concentrated but very well defined. A powerhouse, with terrific depth and layer, well framed by tannins. It was aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 30% of them new and 70% second year. 14.8%
Judging Revista de Vinhos’ Top 10 Portuguese Wines competition at ‘Essência do Vinho – Porto 2019, in the beautiful Salão Árabe hall of Palácio da Bolsa.
I spent the last week in Portugal, judging at Revista de Vinhos’ Top 10 Portuguese Wines competition at Essência do Vinho Porto wine fair, followed by Simplesmente Vinho and visits in Lisboa with Simplesmente Vinho vignerons. A jam-packed week! In this post, I focus on Essência do Vinho Porto highlights.
Revista de Vinhos’ Top 10 Portuguese Wines
As the grand setting in the Salão Árabe hall of Palácio da Bolsa (pictured top) suggests, this competition is designed to highlight Portugal’s vinous glitterati. Since I last judged there, over 10 years ago, the wine scene has changed dramatically, with the rise of white wines, the quality renaissance (now being firmly embraced countrywide) and growth of ‘out of the box’ wines.
I was really excited to see this reflected in a shortlist of 57 terrifically diverse wines selected from Revista de Vinhos magazines’ top rated wines of last year. This diversity really enhanced the judging experience – I appreciated each style all the more.
Essência do Vinho Porto 2019 – Top Ten winners
Fifty judges from 11 countries selected the Top 10, which awards three whites wines, three fortified wines and four red wines. And the winners were:
First place – Principal Grande Reserva 2011 (Bairrada) – an oxidative but powerful white, which put me in mind of a white Hermitage.
Second place – Wine & Soul Guru 2016 (Douro) – grapefruity, with riper citrus and spicy oak notes, a hint of tangerine peel. Long finish.
Third place – Cozs Vp – Vital 2017 (Vinho de Portugal) – a Jura-like nose and palate, reduced and very energetic, with salty/salted butter notes. Long and linear.
White and red runners up Sandra Tavares da Silva (Wine & Soul Guru 2016) and Susana Esteban (Procura 2014) pose with red wine winner Jorge Rosas (Quinta da Touriga-Chã 2016)
First place –Quinta da Touriga-Chã 2016 (Douro) – a very supple Douro red, creamy almost with bergamot jelly bean lift, juicy fruits of the forest and smooth tannins.
Second place – Susana Esteban Procura Vinhas Velhas 2014 (Alentejo) – a youthfully tight nose and brooding palate which put me in mind of a velvet curtain with pin holes of light, which point to a long future ahead. Terrific spice (clove, cardamom), damask perfume and minerality, the fruit concentrated but very well defined.
Third place – Azores Wine Company Sabor(z)inho by António Maçanita 2015 (Pico, Azores) – very pale and postively Pinot-esque (rustic Pinot-esque), with bracken, mulch and catering chocolate notes to its crunch red berry and pomegranate fruit; fine, pithy tannins and fresh , salty acidity make for a persistent finish.
Fourth place – Sogrape Vinhos Quinta dos Carvalhais Único 2015 (Dão) – inky, elegant florals and fruit, with a lively, very youthful parry of acid and (building) tannin, with mulchy, sous bois undertones. Lots of interest.
First place –Dow’s Vintage Port 2016 (Porto) – classic Dow’s – firm, with fine tannins, great length and persistence to its Earl Grey Tea-edged palate.
Second place –Taylor’s Vintage Port 2016 (Porto) – consistently at the top of my list for this vintage – tight-knit, very deep and pure fruited, with great precision and elegance.
Third place –Barbeito Boal 40 Anos Vinho do Embaixador (Madeira) – lifted and long – as long and piercingly precise as an Olympic gold medal winning javelin throw, with plenty of back palate tobbaco and black tea resonance. Spellbinding.
It was a very strong line up.
Other highlights, new finds
Herdade do Portocarro Gerónimo 2017 (Península de Setúbal) – a mineral, savoury and intense blend of 52% Galego Dourado, 48% Sercial, with lively acid drive.
Barbeito Verdelho 2017 (Madeirense) – a terrific debut from Ricardo ‘dynamic’ Diogo, pithy and grapefruity, with a surprising delicacy for Verdelho (but perhaps not the winemaker).
Quinta da Serradinha Encruzado e Arinto 2016 (Lisboa) – it’s rare to find Encruzado outside the Dão and Antonio Marques de Cruz has a great touch with it – salty, savoury, a little cheesy, with plenty of complexity, structure and drive.
Quinta da Pellada Primus 2015 (Dão) – terrific depth, with subtle honeycombe/nuttiness, lively grapefruit and beautiful balance.
Luís Leocádio of Titan, Douro
Titan Vale Dos Mil 2016 (Douro) – I first encountered Titan wines at Encontro com Vinhos e Sabores last November. Made by talented young winemaker Luís Leocádio, I was impressed. From an aged field blend vineyard close to Beira Interior, the soils are schist, granite and quartz. With stone fruits close to the kernel, it has a bitter, nutty edge, but great intensity, power and drive to its firm quince, green apple peel and citrus fruit. Long with lovely (quinine) minerality.
Fita Preta Fina Flor NV (Alentejo) – like the name suggests, this is a sherry-like solera wine, with Jura-like acid-drive to its super salty, salted almond palate. Lip-smacking stuff!
Fita Preta Fina Flor NV
Quinta da Falorca Noblesse Oblige Red 2011 (Dão) – a rich, deep palate, with perfumed blueberry, dried fig and kid glove, yet well structured and dry.
Duorum O. Lecura 2012 (Douro) – so very Douro in its schistous, mineral delivery with concentrated plum, blackcurrant and wilder bilberry fruit. Long, very persistent with orange blossom lift to the finish. With ripe but assertive tannins to its bright fruit, it’s still a youngster.
Herdade do Rocim Crónica 328 José Ribeira Vieira Reserva 2015 (Alentejo) – rich, perfumed and gamy, with leather and balsamic complexity to its concentrated black fruits and dried fig. Weighty, but lovely persistence and harmony.
Quinta do Portal Portal Quinta dos Muros Vintage Port 2016 (Porto) – beautiful aromatics with bergamot, bergamot jelly bean and deep reserves of black currant and berry fruit, well supported by fine, mineral tannins. Precision finish.
If you enjoyed reading this, check out my post about those 10 Portuguese wines which have most excited me since I have been writing about Portuguese wines:
I have greatly enjoyed the Grenaches I have tasted from the unusually cool 2017 vintage. Toby and Emmanuelle Bekkers’ Grenache is a favourite and, suffice to say, the 2017 vintage (and of the Syrah Grenache) did not disappoint.
In the press release which accompanied the samples, the Bekkers come out strongly in support of Grenache as the variety “with which McLaren Vale will stand proudest.” Regular readers will guess that I’m of similar mind. Explaining why, the couple go on to say “[L]ate ripening and medium-bodied, Grenache augments the signature of vintage and vineyard more keenly than Shiraz.”
I’d been keenly anticipating Bekkers’ 2017 release. Not just for the interesting, cooler year (“the latest harvest of recent times”), which plays heavily into the warm climate Pinot Noir style I enjoy so much (even at 15% abv!) But also because Bekkers Grenache 2017 introduces a new (third) vineyard into the blend, in the elevated Onkaparinga Hills.
You’ll find my notes on the wines below. Click here for my notes on the 2016 Grenache, where you will find notes on other McLaren Vale 2017 Grenaches, as well as a link to a report of my visit with Toby and Emmanuelle in 2015. Max Allen wrote a feature about them in The World of Fine Wine, which I enjoyed reading. Click here for my review of Bekkers Syrah.
Bekkers Grenache 2017 (McLaren Vale)
Bekkers Grenache 2017
The fruit is sourced from 1930’s and 1960’s dry farmed vineyards in Blewitt Springs (98-107m) and Kangarilla (240-244m) on deep bleached sand over ironstone gravel and orange clay and Onkaparinga Hills (186-201m) on brown clay-loam and slaty siltstone. Harvested 20th March and 7 & 23 April, each parcel was fermented seperately, with 20% whole bunches, the balance fermented whole berry after a 5-6 day cold soak. The wine was aged on fine lees for around a year in aged French oak 500l puncheons. You pick up the minerality of the wine from the off. Even the nose has a crystalline quality, together with pretty violet florals. On both days of tasting (the same bottle), this medium-bodied Grenache’s minerality shone through, finding echo in its sandpapery underlay of tannin. Hard to believe its weighs in at 15% alcohol. Whilst the fruit has a sweetness, even a touch of orange peel (for me a indication of ripeness) and, as it opens up, becomes sleek, creamy almost, its red cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit retains line and definition. The palate is distinctly fresh-fruited, which keeps the sweetness in check too. With plenty of nuance and structure, this is a typically refined offer from the Bekkers – made to age, though it is damn difficult to resist now! I’d love to see it again in 10 years. 15% AUS$80
Bekkers Syrah Grenache 2017 (McLaren Vale)
Bekkers Syrah Grenache 2017
Talking of ageing, the Bekkers’ press release mentions how, over 20 years of tasting some well-cellared McLaren Vale wine, they have observed that blends of Shiraz and Grenache, as opposed to single varietal Shiraz, have cellared better in many cases. The couple posit that this is perhaps down to the tannin profile, natural acidity or fragrance of the Grenache. Doubtless this explains why they have increased the percentage of Grenache, making the 2017 “deliberately a little lighter framed.” Whilst the Grenache portion has increased, this blend’s emphatic blackberry, black cherry (close to the stone), fleshier plum and (red) liquorice point to Syrah. It has a reductive peppery, meaty, graphite note too (I picked up some ‘pingy’ saddle soap on day one too, which I usually associated with Mourvedre), which pins back the fruit a touch and, with the Grenache’s pippy raspberry and raft of sandpapery tannins, lends freshness to the palate. Lovely fluidity and grace. Bekkers Syrah Grenache 2017 is a blend of three Syrah vineyards (two in Clarendon at 194-242m & 309-329m, one in Seaview at 102-122m) and the same Onkaparinga Hills’ vineyard which contributed to the single varietal Grenache. The fruit was harvested on 21 March and on 6, 7 & 13th April and naturally fermented separately (with 15-20% whole bunch, the rest whole berry), following a 5-6 day cold soak. It was aged for around a year on fine lees in seasoned French oak barrels (300l & 500l) and blended and bottled in August 2018. 14.5% AUS$80
This is the sixth release of Taylor’s Single Harvest Tawny Ports (Colheitas) released on their 50th birthday. I received the customary pre-release test tube sample, but the final article is packaged in Taylor’s signature frosted bottle and packaged in a luxury wooden gift box, pictured.
According to Taylor’s 1969 vintage report, winter rainfall from October to March was one of the highest on record. Although July and August were hot, the maturation of the fruit was delayed by the cool early Summer and consequently the vintage did not start generally until the beginning of October. So what about the resulting wine?
Taylor’s Single Harvest Port 1969
It is a deep mahogany hue with a rich, very smooth, dark nose and palate – mellow, rather than vigorous like the best Ports from this series (for me, the 68, 66, 65, 64). Which is not to say it isn’t delicious. There’s much to like here, with toasted coconut, Bourbon and singed tatin notes to the nose, which follow through on the palate. In the mouth it reveals dried fig, molasses and woody, smoky, grilled hazelnut notes, with hints of aniseed ball and orange peel. Very even and velvety going through, with balanced acidity and a clean, long finish. 158g/l residual sugar, 20% abv £130/bottle in bond at Lay & Wheeler, Farr Vintners
Alternatively McLaren Vale Whites – Brash Higgins CHN Chenin Blanc 2017 far right
Wine Australia’s annual Australia Trade Tasting, which kicks off my year, is always fertile ground for my Wines of the Month. Seasonally, or unseasonally, depending on how you look at it, my February Wines of the Month are both white. To my mind, whites with a good deal of substance – complexity – even if they both possess a razor-sharp backbone of acidity.
House of Arras E J Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2004 (Tasmania)
House of Arras E J Carr Late Disgorged Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2004
I couldn’t help but notice that the tasting sheet for the insightful Australian sparkling masterclass hosted by Ed Carr omitted to mention that Arras’ flagship cuvee is named after him. He is only Australia’s most lauded sparkling winemaker, whose achievements bagged him a Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships. But there and again, Carr is a thoroughly likeable, modest guy, whom one senses is happiest practising his craft. True to type, this late disgorged fizz from a cool year has plenty of pizzazz. Both train tracks and locomotive, a rapier-like, firm backbone of steely breakfast grapefruit acidity drives a long, super-persistent finish, whilst buoying complex autolytic notes of earthy mushroom, truffle and tufa – very Loire troglodyte champignonierre! A saline edge adds lip-smacking piquancy and sense of place. Comprising around 65% Chardonnay, the fruit was mostly sourced from Derwent Valley in the south (concentration and intensity), with a splash of Pipers River (nervosity/minerality). 12.5% RRP £99.99; £57.95 (2003 vintage) at Vinorium
I presented this single (Willamaba Hill) vineyard Chenin Blanc from the Blewitt Springs sub-region at three Alternatively McLaren Vale masterclasses at the London, Edinburgh and Dublin Australia Trade Tastings. I wasn’t the only one it impressed. It came out top white on straw polls. According to Vinehealth, McLaren Vale has just 16.94ha of Australia’s 407ha of Chenin Blanc. Its noble origins only came to light in 1976, when the French ampelographer M. Paul Truel identified it during a visit to Australia. Known locally as Albillo (a Spanish grape), it was traditionally used to make fortified Sherry-like wines. Which is intriguing, because this wine has an enticingly oxidative, yet energetic (almost Jura/Fino-like nutty/flor) edge which I liked a good deal. In other respects, Brash Higgins Chenin Blanc 2017 showcases Chenin Blanc’s complexity and drive brilliantly, with its honeyed nose and firm, tightly-wound palate – all grapefruit and quince. Super intensity, with a chewy, phenolic, deliciously savoury note to the finish. Winemaker Brad Hickey – a great fan of Loire Chenin – crushed the grapes into small half ton bins and left it on skins for two to three days to help build texture. It was basket pressed, settled overnight then racked into six year old white Burgundy barrels, where it fermented naturally and aged on lees for around 11 months. It underwent a partial malolactic fermentation, yet retains 7.34g/l of Total Acidity. Hickey likes to pick it early and, doubtless, the elevated site (at 250m, the highest I can recall encountering in McLaren Vale), helps retain high natural acidity – especially in 2017, a cool year. 12.5% RRP £24.95. Vagabond Wines imports Brash Higgins wines into the UK, but not this one. Yet…. It’s a rip-snorter, so fingers crossed.