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Giles Cooke at Alliance wine is the dude behind this wine from Thistledown, which is a really beautiful expression of old vine McLaren Vale Grenache. It’s not showy, but just really elegant and with potential for development.

The Vagabond Old Vine Grenache 2016 Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale, Australia
14.5% alcohol. Single site, 80 year old dry grown vines on sandy soils. 35% whole bunches layered alternately between crushed fruit in concrete eggs, with no mechanical extraction at all. This is a lovely, vibrant expression of McLaren Vale Grenache, showing juicy raspberry and red cherry fruit, with some orange peel notes and faint hints of tar and rubber. Bright and with nice structure, melding in well to the fruit to create a really expressive, youthful and elegant wine. Pinot Noir of the south, Grenache, is responding well here to sympathetic winemaking, expressing the brightness of the sandy soils of Blewitt Springs. I’d love to see this in five years’ time. 93/100 (£23.99 Virgin Wines)

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I’ve tried Jacob Leadley’s Black Chalk sparkling wines a few times now, and I’ve been really impressed. On this latest showing, I reckon this is one of the best UK sparklers out there.

Black Chalk Classic 2015 England
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with some barrel fermentation used for the base wines. This is really delicate and refined with good acidity and fine lemony fruit. Lovely texture and beautifully integrated acidity. Pristine, pure flavours with nice mouthfeel. So delicate with purity and balance. World class. 93/100

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Masi are one of the leading wine producers in the Veneto region of northern Italy. They are specialists in appassimento, the process of drying freshly harvested grapes on racks for three months after vintage. During the drying process, sugars, flavour compounds and acidity are concentrated, and metabolic changes take place in the grapes that otherwise wouldn’t occur, resulting in interesting flavour precursors. After drying, the grapes are fermented to make Amarone, which is a wine of incredible richness, smoothness and depth of flavour, when it is done well.

But the process isn’t without its challenges. If the grapes aren’t in good hygienic condition, and/or the fermentation struggles, then the resulting wine can show signs of oxidation. Sandro Boscaini, who took over at Masi in 1978, is known as Mr Amarone. He has worked hard to refine the drying technique and also to make sure fermentations are trouble free. Over the last 40 years, Masi have shown their commitment to this process by refining it, and also exporting it around the world with collaborations, and a Masi winery in Argentina.

Masi also use the dried grapes to add depth to the classic Valpolicella red wine by refermenting it with the dried grapes, a process called ripasso. Initially, they refermented Valpolicella on the skins of pressed Amarone, and their Campofiorin, first made in 1967, has been a huge success. Later they found out that using the dried grapes themselves rather than just skins gave better results.

I visit to see the drying process in action, and this is a short film showing what it looks like.

Visiting Masi, masters of appassimento - YouTube
 

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A few weeks ago I was in Porto, and I joined fellow journalist Treve Ring to visit Europe’s first commercial tea plantation. It’s from Nina Gruntkowski and Dirk Niepoort, who have a tea import company called Cha Camelia, specialising in Japanese tea. Now they will be making their own tea from a quinta in the Minho in northern Portugal, near Porto. Treve will be writing an article on it for the World of Fine Wine. Here’s a short film of the visit.

Visiting Europe's first tea plantation in Portugal - YouTube

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German Pinot Noir (known locally as Spätburgunder) can be quite wonderful, and of late seems to have been getting better. But Pinot is a tricky grape and it’s sensitive to terroir and yields, and results can be quite variable. I was sent these seven wines to try, all of which have retail representation in the UK. These are my notes. They were pretty good, with a couple of stand outs.

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2016 Pfalz, Germany
12.5% alcohol
£12.50 Oddbins
Very attractive, sweet, floral, approachable cherry and raspberry fruit. Has a sweet, smooth mouthfeel with some silky texture. Lovely approachable Pinot showing some elegance and drinkability, with just a subtle savoury, slightly cedary, herby edge. Nice weight. 90/100

Salwey Pinot Noir 2015 Kaiserstuhl, Baden, Germany
13% alcohol
£16.95 Tanners
Supple and sweet with some sour cherry and plum fruit. Nicely elegant with some juiciness and a bit of spiky acid in the background. Fruity and quite elegant with some savoury oak. 89/100

Weingut Burgermeister Carl Koch Spätburgunder 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
13.5% alcohol
£16 Roberson
Rounded, sweet red cherry fruit with some herb and undergrowth notes. In the mouth this has nice texture with a smooth feel, but also some hints of mushroom and earth. Sweetly fruited but also has a savoury side to it. 88/100

Hans Baer Pinot Noir Dry 2016 Pfalz, Germany
13% alcohol
£7 Tesco
This is fresh, sappy and bright with nice sweet cherry and plum fruit. It has some nice green hints that integrate very nicely into the sweet fruit, with a touch of raspberry brightness on the finish. Great value for money. 88/100

Hofmann Spätburgunder Trocken 2015 Rheinhessen, Germany
13% alcohol
£12.50 Slurp.co.uk
This has keen lemon and green apple acidity sitting underneath peppery, spicy red cherry and redcurrant fruit. Lively and zippy with lovely focus. It’s a very bright, striking style of Pinot, that has the acidity of a white wine. I like it. 90/100

Karl H. Johner Pinot Noir Enselberg 2016 Baden, Germany
14% alcohol
£20.99 Waitress
This is lovely. Refined and expressive with floral red and black cherry fruit. There’s a luxurious texture in the mouth: it’s silky but with bright framing. Velvet and tassels with a seductive personality. Finishes with a little bit of grip, and a twist of pepper and spice. Tastes somewhere between new world and old, and it’s all the better for it. 94/100

Palataia Pinot Noir 2017 Pfalz, Germany
13.5% alcohol
£10 Marks & Spencer
Vivid, light and juicy with bright red cherry and cranberry fruit, as well as notes of herbs, tar and bitter damson on the finish. Sweet and savoury at the same time, and light in body. A very supple, drinkable style, but quite clunky and grippy on the finish. 87/100

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Foncalieu is a Languedoc-based coop with 650 member growers and has a turnover of €54 million. For the region, its production mix is unusually weighted towards white and rosé (both account for 50% of volume). It has launched a series of six reasonably ambitious, modern wines, of which this is one, made from young Malbec vines that have come from Argentine cuttings! The result is really nice. The wine comes from the Montandy plateau outside Béziers, with red, chalky soils with traces of iron. I tried it alongside two other Malbecs from Argentina, and it performed very well (as did the Argentine wines).

Ensedune Malbec 2017 Coteaux d’Ensérune IGP, France
13.5% alcohol. This is one of a range of six single varietal wines from Foncalieu. It’s an impressive, vibrant, unoaked Malbec with fresh, vivid, sweet berry fruits, some cherry florality and a bit of grunt on the finish. Modern, Fruit-driven, but honest this really delivers a lot of pleasure, and hints of pepper and meat add complexity. UK retail is just under £10, at which point it’s very good value. 89/100

Altos Las Hormigas Malbec Clásico 2017 Mendoza, Argentina
13.5% alcohol. Vineyards for this wine were selected for their soil profile and altitude. Unoaked, aged in concrete tanks. The nose shows a leafy, green, open red fruit character that’s very sappy and floral. The palate is light and supple with elegant red cherry and plum fruit, as well as a fine spiciness. There are some haunting green notes that add a lot of freshness and sappiness. The acidity is quite bright but well integrated. Such a lovely expression of Argentine Malbec, with a focus on elegance, but it won’t please those looking for power and opulence in their wines. It’s brilliant value with a UK retail of around £12. 92/100

Morrison’s Gran Montaña Malbec Reserva 2016 Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina
13.5% alcohol. Made for Morrisons by Zuccardi. Really fresh and supple with bright cherry and berry fruits, with some raspberry freshness and well-integrated green notes. This has lovely detail and focus, with nice acidity keeping things fresh. There’s no oak obscuring the fruit and it has great focus. Superb value at £8. 91/100

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Mihalis Boutaris, of Greece’s Kir-Yianni Estates, has been busy in China. He’s currently working on two projects there, one of which has led to this wine. It’s a vineyard in Tianshui. [The other is a vineyard in the Gobi desert near Ningxia.] Tianshui has relatively low growing-season rain compared with other areas nearby, and Mihalis reckons it shows a lot of promise. This wine, XiGu, is a one-off from the 2016 vintage. 1200 bottles only were made, and all went to the Chinese market. Still, it was good to be able to try it, to get a feeling for what might be possible here. The wine was really good.

It was handmade, fairly naturally. The berries were hand destemmed and the grapes were then crushed by feet in traditional open-top 500-litre clay pots. The ferments were hand plunged daily, kept cool with the use of dry ice (max temperature was 26 C) and the free run was then aged in stainless steel. There was a brief treatment with premium oak chips.

A minor de-acidification was needed at juice stage, and after a delicate fining with egg white only, the wine was bottled without any filtration. The label is from an original drawing by Nikomachi Karakostanoglou called “Good-luck Cherry Blossom”. Total SO2 is 10 ppm, VA is 0.32 g/l, TA 6.2 g/l, pH 3.34.

“XiGu” Tianshui Pinot Noir 2016 China
Deep coloured. This is nicely textural with a lovely purity and freshness to the raspberry and black cherry fruit. It’s quite sleek and polished, but there’s some structure lurking under the fruit. Subtle hints of tar and cedar in the background, but the dominant theme is the lovely, balanced, fresh pure fruit. Finishes quite grippy with some more tar character. A very promising start. 91/100

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The 2016 vintage was a good one in the Gimblett Gravels. It was just a touch cooler than average (GDDs 1430 as opposed to an LTA of 1500), but it was a bit drier (growing season rainfall 340 mm versus an average of 463 mm). Since 2008 a selection of 12 wines has been made, and these are sent out to key journalists. For the last few years Andrew Caillard has made the selection, and this year he chose 8 Bordeaux-style wines and 4 Syrahs. These are the notes. Overall, I enjoyed the wines, but my impression from a recent visit is that these aren’t the absolute best wines from the region. Most of them will need some time to show their best: many of these wines are in a slightly leaner, taut, oak-influenced style, and I think sometimes Hawke’s Bay needs a bit more texture and flesh. Here are my notes on the 2015 selection.

Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, spending just over a year in barriques, 40% new, 13% alcohol. Lively with some bright raspberry notes and a bit of spicy, cedary oak alongside the core of blackcurrant and plum fruit. Structured and quite firm, but with nice bright fruit. 91/100

Babich The Patriarch 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
40% Merlot, 33% Malbec, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 months in French oak (45% new). 13% alcohol. This is fleshy and grippy at the same time, with sweetly aromatic berry and black fruits. There’s a bit of oak in the mix, and some grippy, tarry, gravelly notes, too. Quite firm on the finish. 91/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
58% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. 18 months in French oak, 45% new, 13% alcohol. This is a polished, balanced wine with sleek blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, with some freshness and a supple, textured mouthfeel. There’s structure here, too, and I reckon it could age positively over the next decade. Really smart winemaking, combining freshness, mid-weight digestibility and good structure. 94/100

Sacred Hill Helmsman 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 17 months in French oak, half new. 13.5% alcohol. Rich, dense and with a spicy, gravelly core to the attractive, supple blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Has density and grip with nice firm structure and some cedary, spicy wood. Needs a bit more time to harmonise. 92/100

Vidal Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. 20 months in French oak, 5 barrels made, three of which were new. This is supple, fresh and juicy with bright raspberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit. It’s really pure and has brightness and focus with lovely fruit quality, and potential for development. There’s tannin here, but the overall impression is a mid-weight, supple one. 93/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone ‘Antoine’ 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot. 14% alcohol. 18 months in French oak (half new). Very fresh and linear with bright, supple raspberry and cherry fruit, with some blackcurrant hints. Focused and taut with a linear personality, and a hint of oak. Quite primary and compact still with good acidity and tannin, and fresh, pure fruit. Has potential. 92/100

Stonecroft Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Organic, from the Fernhill Vineyard. 18 months in French oak. This is grippy, tannic and quite gravelly, with a grainy, chalky texture to the blackcurrant fruit. It’s Cabernet at the margins, with lovely focus and structure to the bright fruit. Has all the ingredients to age really well, with firm tannins still clamping down on the fruit. But you could drink it now with robust red meat. 94/100

Saint Clair Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 67% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 13% Malbec, 10 months in French oak, one-third new. Gravelly, spicy and tarry with some grip to the sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There’s some savoury cured meat and spice character here, with a touch of smokiness. Ripe and quite drying on the finish. 89/100

Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. From the Cornerstone Vineyard. Fermented in old concrete fermenters with wild yeasts, then aged for 15 months in French oak. This is bright, fresh and supple with midweight cherry and plum fruit, as well as some pepper and clove notes. Quite grippy, youthful and structured. Give this time. 91/100

Vidal Legacy Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
From the Omahu Gravels and Twyford Gravels vineyards. 13% alcohol. 20 months in French oak, 14 barrels made. Concentrated and vivid with a spicy, grippy structure and notes of pepper, blackberry and black cherry. This is dense, structured and quite backward, and needs time. Tight and closed at the moment. 93/100

Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. 16 months in barrel. There’s some generosity here, but also tight black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Vivid and fresh with subtle peppery notes and a sleek edge to the smooth black fruits. Pure, refined, midweight and expressive. Has potential to develop with time. Quite structured at present. 93/100

Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. 16 months in French oak. This is savoury and dense with taut blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, with hints of pepper and spice. Unfurled but with mouthfilling density and firm tannins. Lots of potential here: taut and structured with a grainy, grippy finish. Needs to come together a bit more, and this could take a few years. 92/100

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Martinborough pioneer Ata Rangi is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated wineries, and so I was quite excited to be able to catch up with winemaker Helen Masters to taste through recent releases. Helen had just got back from the UK the day before, so it was very cool that she rocked up to conduct the tasting. It was a good one, too, with a nice energy, and the wines showed really well. Helen has been here for 15 years now, and she’s making some stunning wines.

As with many of New Zealand’s wine regions, the last two vintages were a bit tricky. 2017 was very cool in Martinborogh. 2018 was warmer, so the skin were thinner. Coupled with higher humidity levels, though, there was the potential for trouble. ‘We did OK so we picked when the tannins were ripe,’ says Helen. ‘When the cyclone came through we had the majority of the Pinot through. The wines are very pretty and there’s something really interesting about them, but if you stuck them next to 2013 (a classic year), you’d wonder whether they were from the same place.’ She says that the 2018 wines will be softer and more open.

Ata Rangi Dry Riesling Craighall 2013
An acre of vines across the road that Dry River used to use. When Craighall sold they bought the bare land and we had the existing vineyard. The vines are 30 years old and 2013 is the current release. Whole bunch press, settled overnight and racked. Taut and limey on the nose. Vivid with a hint of toast and a keen lime oil note. Has some grunt and structure. Pure and focused with lovely lemony freshness on the finish. Has substance. 91/100

Sauvignon Blanc
Since 2014 Helen has been using 10% fermented with skins (600 litre barrels with hatches, then when it finishes fermenting it is topped up and left for 2 months). In 2017 she did another 5% for whole bunch, fermented for a month, and with no sulfur added to the juice. The reason for the skin contact is that the old vine fruit has such lovely flavour, and it wasn’t coming through in the wine. So the whole bunch gives galangal (a Thai root that is used in soups), and the skins give mandarin, ginger and exotic spice. The stems give and earthy sweetness. Also, Helen says she always wants more texture in the wine. It’s hand sorted hand-picked fruit sent over a sorting table. Helen doesn’t want any botrytis in there.

Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautifully aromatic with lovely ginger, mandarin and herb notes, as well as a touch of elderflower. Lovely vivid palate with some green, nettley notes and powerful fruit. It’s not a big wine, but it has real presence and drive. Good structure, too. Linear with a nice mineral edge. 93/100

Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Martinborough, New Zealand 
There’s a lovely ripeness and roundness here, with a faint hint of nice reduction, together with white peach, grapefruit and fine herbs, as well as a touch of tangerine. Understated and pure with nice precision. A hint of jasmine, too. 92/100

Chardonnay
Whole-bunch pressed, juice from press tray to barrel, no sulfur. Tiny bit of lees stirring as primary starts to slow down. Malolactic: whatever starts spontaneously, so in cooler years aim for 100%. Don’t add sulfur until quite late. All 300 litre barrels, 25% new. Some of the ferments take a year to complete. No sulfites in the juice means that the wine feels more integrated earlier.

‘Vine age means that you can pick early and still get ripe flavours,’ says Helen. ‘It’s not often now that you see a green gnarly wine.’

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Good flavours at low Brix this year. Linear and fine with nice toast and spice. Lovely bready detail. Quite savoury and has good acidity, with some nuttiness and lean pear and lemon fruit. Real precision to this wine. 94/100

Ata Rangi Chardonnay 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Delicate but not lacking in flavour with lemons, pears and some ripe apple character. Fine, expressive toast and nut characters in the background. This has a lovely drive to it: fresh and lemony with lovely weight and delicacy. Pretty and expressive. 94/100

Pinot Noir
It’s all hand picked, varying levels of whole bunch (Ata Rangi tends to have 35-40% whole bunch), minimal use of sulfur (just spray the top of the ferments). The big thing is the picking date. Traditionally they have done longer macerations, then to barrel, spring malolactic, racked and not fined or filtered. The biggest factor is the picking date.

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
No enzymes, added yeasts, minimal sulfur, no fining and filtering. Looking to make a wine with some savouriness. Younger vines, 16 or 17 years old. Very fruity with bright raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of grip. Nice crunchiness and purity here. Deliciously focused and fruity. 93/100

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Juicy, sappy and quite tight with some reductive hints. The cool vintage has given some keen acidity with perfumed, herbal aromatics, bright raspberry fruit with a bit of grip. Sappy, fresh and structured with good acidity. This has an acid frame and it’s delicious, with a peppercorn. 93/100

2016 will be released in a month, and the 2017 the following year

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
This has lovely freshess and detail. It has a core of red cherry and plum fruit with good acidity, and some grippy tannins. Lovely perfume and a chiselled red fruit character supported by good tannins. Has clarity and it isn’t trying to be too big. It is hanging off the acid, but it’s at ease with itself. 94/100

Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
They started with the McCrone vineyard in 2001. It’s right next door, with an 800 mm layer of clay above the gravels. Planted in 2001 with 45% Abel, 15% Pommard and 50% Dijon clones. The tannins can be quite big because of the clay. Shows a lovely perfumed sappy whole bunch character on the nose. There’s precision, purity, focus and elegance on the palate. So pretty and linear with raspberries and cherries and hints of sappy undergrowth and fine spices. Good structure. 96/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
There’s lovely direct raspberry and cherry fruit here with some finesse. Has ripe raspberry, redcurrant and cherry notes with a slight sappiness and good structure. There’s definitely some grip and savoury seriousness here, as well as very pretty fruit. So fine and expressive, this has nice detail and should age beautifully, but it’s no sin to drink it young. 95/100

Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Brooding with a lovely green sappy undercurrent to the floral red and black cherry fruit. Some herbs and undergrowth. There’s real presence on the palate with vivid black cherry and plum fruit and good structure. Shows incredible presence, mixing the red and black fruit and the savoury structure and detail really well. There’s a vintage similarity that binds these two together (17 is more savoury, acid driven; 16 is deeper and brooding), but then you taste the vineyard too. 97/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Complex with lovely fine spiciness. There are hints of mint and herbs, together with concentrated, seamless cherry and raspberry fruit. Has good structure with a compact nature and firms tannins. Dry, tight, intense with floral detail and nice length and definition. This has lots of potential to develop with firmness, good acidity and some appealing savouriness. Great concentration and freshness. 96/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Leafy green, undergrowth notes on the nose with lovely prettiness. The palate is fresh and detailed with nice fleshy red berry fruits. Has grip and structure with some firmness and a nice acid core. Really taut and structural with a dry finish. Has masses of potential. 96/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2014 Martinborough, New Zealand
Nice fruit set in 2014, and the canopy was quite healthy with regular rain, and the autumn was normal. It was too normal and nice, but the wine is a bit old school and maybe less exciting, according to Helen. This has lovely freshness and brightness with fresh raspberries and cherries. There’s some grippy structure here, but also some nice fleshiness to the fruit. Good structure and precision, with nice tannins. Fine herbal hints, but also a lovely core of acidity. Very fine and expressive. Beautiful integrated green notes here. Broody and quite heavy, but ageing well. 95/100

Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Martinborough, New Zealand
Concentrated, dense and structured with grippy raspberry and berry fruits. Very fresh and expressive but very sinewy and tough with robust structure and real intensity. A sold, slightly square, angular wine. Dense and very 2014. It was after this vintage that Helen began doing some whole bunch. 93/100

Ata Rangi Juliet 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
12.3% alcohol. Syrah from Kahu vineyard in the village. Syrah top grafted onto Cabernet Sauvignon, first made in 2013. Vibrant and edgy with linear, floral peppery fruit. Juicy and linear and with pure red fruits. Floral, lean and bright with lovely grip and focus. So pretty and expressive with real focus and finesse. A very pretty wine. 95/100

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