The New Fine Wine Benchmark For White Wines From Portugal – Tasting the New Release Niepoort Vinhas Velhas 2015 Bairrada with Dirk Niepoort…

Few wines have redefined the meaning of fine wine in Portugal quite like the red and white offerings from Dirk Niepoort’s Quinta de Baixo estate. Philosophically rooted in the past, these wine’s are illuminating the future possibilities of fine wine in Bairrada. Today I caught up with Dirk Niepoort in London to taste and talk new vintages.

Quinta de Baixo Vinhas Velhas is the result of combining the varieties Maria Gomes and Bical from century-old vineyards situated on a wonderful limestone terroir.

These exceptional old vine vineyards give rise to wines naturally very high in acidity with a pH below 3.0. The wines are fermented in 1000 litres Mosel fuders that are over 60 years old. The wine is then bottled with very low sulphur additions and no filtration or fining.

Quinta de Baixo Vinhas Velhas 2015, Bairrada, 11.5 Abv.

Sophistication personified, but this is also a wine made with the most honest, natural intensions possible. Perhaps that is the root of its greatness. Beautifully expressive and intense, unfurling delicious aromatic notes of pear purée, nutty almond skins, green apple, dried baking herbs and a wonderful underlay of white citrus, lemon rind and pithy, stony, gravelly limestone minerality. The palate is very finely poised, perfectly balanced, where the incredible concentration and acid intensity is balanced by piecing stone fruits and a saline, briney depth. This is undoubtedly a profound Bairrada white wine, which based on this showing, it has acquired an extra confidence and complexity, but most impressively, a sense of true vinous grandeur. It stimulates the senses and leaves you quite speechless. A massive vinous triumph for Dirk Niepoort.

(Fine Wine Safari: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Ridge Monte Bello: One of The World’s Most Legendary Red Wines – Tasting the New Release 2014…

In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first Monte Bello vineyards were planted, and winery construction begun. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; some vines survived into the late 30’s, but by the 1940s they were effectively abandoned. Eight acres of Cabernet Sauvignon were replanted in 1949. These were the source of the first Ridge Monte Bello (1962) and subsequent vintages until 1974 when younger blocks replanted in the 1960’s were considered for inclusion. Since then, the historic vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.

Vintage 2014

Lack of winter rain affected both vines and cover crops, limiting available nutrients. Still, the vines carried a decent-size crop, which ripened in September. Fermentations progressed slowly; extraction was decided by careful tasting. Malolactic fermentations started in tank and finished by February. Merlot, which suffered in 2013, was strong in 2014. Petit Verdot remained challenged by drought.

Winemaking : Grapes were harvested between the 2nd and 24th of September. Fermentation on the native yeasts proceeded with grapes destemmed and 100% whole berries. Automated berry sorting was followed by hand sorting. Pressed at ten days with natural malolactic fermentation taking place. In 2014, nineteen of twenty-six Monte Bello parcels were selected for blending, after which the wine was aged in oak barrels: 100% new air-dried oak, 97% American oak, 2% French oak; 1% Hungarian oak, for 17 months.

Ridge Monte Bello 2014, Santa Cruz Mountains, California, 13.5 Abv.

Always exciting to taste a new vintage of Monte Bello. It is truly one of the world’s great icon wines that never disappoints. What is so wonderful about this wine is the ultra intelligent path it treads between new world opulence and old world classical restraint. In 2014, the Monte Bello is a delicious blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. There is a wonderful Cabernet laden nose of blueberry crumble, cassis, black plum, buttered brown toast and a piquant note of cedar wood spice, walnut skins, graphite and vanilla pod spice. The palate conveys such wonderful concentration and depth yet remains so elegantly poised, harmonious and finely balanced. A multi layered wine that is supremely seamless, revealing more saline black current, blue berries, black cherry , vanilla bean, salty liquorice hints and a very long, polished finish. Certainly a very well honed, muscular athlete that is a wonder to behold. The tannins will hold this beautiful wine in pole position for many years to come but should be good to start drinking in the next 2 to 3 years and over the next 30+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The New Kid On The Hemel-en-Aarde Block – Tasting The Bosman Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2016…

The area known as Hemel en Aarde falls under the appellation of Walker Bay and is divided into three wards: Hemel en Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley and Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The Bosman De Bos Estate is situated in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley where their vineyards are planted between indigenous fynbos fields in close proximity to the ocean.

Here, suitable soil types combined with the cooling breezes from the Atlantic Ocean create wine growing conditions rivalling some of the greatest wine growing regions of the world. Still a newly established area with modestly aged vines, quality of the region’s wines can only increase incrementally as the vines mature further and winemaking knowhow is expanded.

With the elevated quality wines comes the corresponding premium prices, making it rare for more affordable offerings to be found especially using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But as this wine shows, they do exist and are worth the effort to track down and purchase.

Bosman Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2016, WO Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, 13.93 Abv.

R/Sugar: 1.8g/l, TA: 5.9 g/l, pH: 3.35

An exciting Chardonnay that confirms that some premium wine areas of South Africa still offer excellent value for money. The aromatics of this 2016 are very grown up with plenty of dried citrus peel, wet straw and dusty limestone minerality flirting with smoky struck match reductive notes. The palate is tense and nervy, showing liquid minerality, crushed rocks, piquant lemon grass, bitter lemon and herby citrus spice. A wine with classical restraint, fine balance and great dynamic sophistication. In it’s youth, this is a superb food wine and certainly should appeal to all white Burgundy lovers. Drink now to 2024+

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

It’s Nero d’Avola But Not As You Know It – Tasting The Tenuta di Fessina ERO 2013…

Tenuta di Fessina is an winemaking project which took shape based on Silvia Maestrelli’s love of the land. In 2007, with the help of winemaker Federico Curtaz, who had worked as Gaja’s agronomist for twenty years, the Tuscan wine producer purchased an old vineyard of Nerello Mascalese grapes dating back to the past century. In the middle of the vineyard stood a true gem: an eighteenth -century lava millstone with the chianca – the winepress – still intact.

L’vigne di Fessina, as the locals have always called the Rovittello vineyards, located in the town of Castiglione di Sicilia, show all the love and care poured into them by the previous owners over generations. Their ERO is produced from Nero d’Avola fruit sourced in Val di Noto, south west of Syracuse.

In 2013, a dry spring followed a long and not too hot summer. August and September were characterized by abundant and unusual rainfall, favouring a slower and gradual maturation of healthy grapes with an interesting aromatic profile. After a rather cold and wet September, an October of fine dry weather followed, which allowed for a favourable harvest with fully healthy Nero d’Avola grapes.

Tenuta di Fessina ERO Nero d’Avola 2013, DOC Sicilia, 12.5 Abv.

Fantastically expressive nose of ripe red and black berry fruits, sun dried cranberries, bruised black plums, stewed winter fruits, wet straw and subtle peacan pie and molasses hints. While there are ripe, raisined black berry notes, you’d be mistaken for thinking this was just another run of the mill, over-ripe, sun drenched, sweet fruited, simple Nero d’Avola from Sicily. While the fruit for ERO is not from the Etna region where the winery is situated, it is handle in a more delicate Etna’ish manner, showing wonderful freshness, elegance and delicacy on the palate. The palate bristles with fresh acids, suave textured red fruits, cranberries, raspberries and logan berry with a delicious underlay of chalky, mineral tannic grip. So cool, so elegant, so fresh, this wine totally defies the stereotypical style of Nero d’Avola. Already 5 years old, this wine is as fresh as a daisy and should drink very well for another 6 to 8+ years. A really classy expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Donnhoff’s Niederhauser Hermanshohle Spatlese Impresses Even in a ‘Lesser’ Vintage…

With a reputation going back to the 19th century, this vineyard site was even one of the most highly taxed back in 1901, with its quality accruing a 1500 silver groschen tax compared to neighbouring vineyards on a 15 silver groschen rate. Thought to be named after the Roman god Hermes, the protector of travellers and messengers, and the Hohle or cave on the slope, this 8.55 hectare vineyard is based on grey slate and sand stone soils on a 30-45 degree gradient at 130 to 175m altitude.

When the 2012 Rieslings were released, they were considered by producers and the trade as slightly boring, uneventful, safe wines. Very little acid verve, unique character or electricity. But tasting this wine 6 years later reveals quite a self assured expression with some early development but plenty of delicious complexity. If you have them in your cellar, there’s no rush but they should be fairly interesting to drink now.

Niederhauser Hermanshohle Riesling Spatlese 2012, Nahe, Germany, 8.5 Abv.

Medium straw yellow, on the nose the lift and complexity shows allure and intrigue. Massive density and intensity, there are complex notes of white flowers, gardenia, kerosene rag, lemon marmalade, white peach and waxy yellow lemon peel. As a Spatlese, the wine shows richness and textural palate weight but not overt sweetness. There are delicious notes of soft honied peaches, lemon confit, apple purée, creamy resinous lemon rind and smokey honey on toast. An attractive wine drinking well now but will probably peak in 2 to 3 years time, and drink well over another 5 to 8+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Not a Plentiful Vintage, But Certainly a Delicious Vintage – Tasting Domaine Ferret’s New 2016 Pouilly Fuisse Release…

Founded in the 1840s, Domaine J.A.Ferret is located in the heart of the most famous “climats” of the Fuissé amphitheatre, and has followed a female line of succession, who cleverly decided to bottle their wines themselves long before the practice became common place in Burgundy. The 18 hectare Domaine was acquired in 2008 by the Louis Jadot empire and encouragingly, the estate has remained unwaveringly quality focused ever since.

The 2014 vintage was produced in good quantities but because it was so exceptionally good, stock evaporated prematurely. The 2015 follow up vintage was rushed through to plug the hole and this supply was met by equally voracious demand. The gods were unkind in 2016, yielding a smaller, more restricted vintage but fortunately of very high quality once again.

Domaine J A Ferret Pouilly Fuisse 2016, Burgundy, 13.5 Abv.

Rich aromatic nose full of limestone, graphite, crushed rocks together with green apple, white citrus and white blossom with a subtle almond skin nuttiness. Less ripe and overtly lush than the 2014 or 2015, the palate carries impressive tightly wound concentration, golden delicious apple purée nuances, bitter lemon rind and a subtle wood spice piquant finish. Lovely classical profile, delicious depth, and impressive liquid minerality on the long finish. Drink now to 2025+.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Clos Saint Jacques 2016 Shoot Out – Domaine Armand Rousseau versus Domaine Jean Marie Fourrier…

Clos Saint Jacques is one of Burgundies most famous Premier Cru vineyards situated in the village of Gevrey Chambertin. The vineyard was named after a statue of Saint James that had been placed in the area, as it was a resting point on the way to Santiago de Compostella, the destination of the ‘Way of St. James’ pilgrimage.

It was split up and sold in 1954 by the Comte de Moucheron to four producers. One of these producers was Henri Esmonin, who at the time of the sale was the metayage for the vineyard and bought 1.6 hectares. The other producers were Armand Rousseau, who purchased 2.20 hectares, the Fourrier family who purchased approximate 1 hectare, and Domaine Clair-Dau who purchased 2 hectares.

Clos Saint Jacques vineyard directly north of the village.

Today, this 6.7 hectare vineyard with five strips running from the top to the bottom of the vineyard, are currently owned by five different producers. Sylvie Esmonin, the granddaughter of Henri Esmonin, holds 1.60 hectares. Bruno Clair and Maison Louis Jadot own 1 hectare each, which was split between them from the land purchased by Domaine Clair-Dau. Domaine Fourrier holds 0.89 hectares.

(Both bottles tasted were barrel samples)

Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques 2016, Burgundy

A wine that is wonderfully bright, lifted and perfumed, loaded with red cherry, cranberry, pink musk, cherry candy and sappy lipstick spice. Classically proportioned, this profound wine’s palate is dense and concentrated, packed with cherry pith, red plum and red bramble berry depth. Impressive classic finesse and textured, balanced length highlight this wine’s pedigree and signature class that is rarely surpassed within this appellation. Another breathtaking example from this Domaine. Drink from 2022 to 2045+

(Wine Safari Score: 96-97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Domaine Jean Marie Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques 2016, Burgundy

Always a dense, fleshy expression, this 2016 retains a more classically weighted style, showing cool graphite, earthy red berries, bruised red plums, cherry coulis and a sweet, saline liquorice spice. The palate has all the hallmark Fourrier concentration, opulence and overt fruit flesh, yet the wine never looses its coiled spring tension and nerve. Lovely balance and a fine tannic core, this is a delicious Clos Saint Jacques expression with impressive depth and breadth. A very impressive wine. Drink from 2020 to 2038+

(Wine Safari Score: 95-96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Verdict: Two very impressive wines, both almost as good as any Grand Cru’s tasted from the 2016 vintage. For me the Armand Rousseau remains unsurpassed, combining freshness, precision, structure, and depth. Some how they manage to marry amazing concentration of fruit and classical liquid mineral intensity. Not a cheap wine, but worth every penny. Rousseau takes it by a head…