Fine Wine Friday at Chez Bruce With Some Iconic Wines…

Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.

Wine Advocate reviewer Neal Martin (left) with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce

First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)



The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)


Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)


The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)


At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)



Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)



The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)



The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)


So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)


The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)


To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)


At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS) 


The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)



To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)



Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.



Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time. 

A Dynamic South African Winemaker Moving An Historic Tuscan Icon Winery to New Heights…

Wonderful visit and tasting today with a winemaker I feel is changing, albeit slowly, the established Tuscan landscape. Asserting his influence at Querciabella since 2010, it is indisputable that the wines have jumped in quality and character since Manfred Ing took over as head of winemaking at Querciabella.


A 100% Sangiovese Cuvee, the grapes used have been biodynamic since 2000 and organic since 1988. Averaged yields are approaching 35 hl/ha and the oak use is 100% French, 5% new with the remainder consisting of 2nd and 3rd fill barrels.


Tasting through the whole estate range, it crystallises how Manfred is imposing his quality philosophy on the Querciabella character and style. With a bit of South African sweat, these are now some of the most intense, focused, biodynamic wines made in Tuscany today! And if you get bored drinking his iconic Chardonnay – Pinot Blanc Batar white Blend, there is always his own Ansonica white from the Isle of Giglio you can indulge in (and which is already reviewed in this site!)


Agricola Querciabella Chianti Classico DOCG 2014, Tuscany, 14 Abv. 

This is a deep, dark, broody wine that reveals complex aromatics of raspberry cordial, cherry liquor, cranberry zest, and sweet candied cherry sherbet fruit intensity. So seductive, very alluring, the palate is equally so mouth watering with layers of saline cassis, black berry spice, sweet cherry tobacco and buttered brown toast. Texturally the wines of Manfred are incomparable with previous expressions from the past, with his ability to elevate the concentration, fruit and acidity balance to new levels his real talent. Underlying it all is his leveraging of fruit quality and fruit purity. It resonates across the palate and reawakens your taste buds. Bravo Manfred! 

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

Even Little Unicorns Grow Up One Day ~ Tasting the New Release Ornellaia Bianco 2015 Release…

I have always been a big lover of the exceptional wines of Ornellaia. Their reds offer such delicious opulence, intensity and complexity in youth and with age, while their resurrected whites have titillated the fine wine market and earned this beautiful Bolgheri estate a host of new converts.


I guess for me, it all started in 2010 when I bought the new recreation of a Bolgheri white classic under the Poggio alle Gazze label. Usually a Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Petit Manseng and Vermentino blend, the Poggio label acted as a laboratory for the estate to find and vinify the finest white wine parcels that demonstrate their capacity to express the unique character of Ornellaia’s terroir.


In 2013, winemaker Axel Heinz felt confident enough to select parcels of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier to create the estate’s first Ornellaia bianco. A 70/30 blend led by Sauvignon Blanc, this wine birthed a new unicorn wine in Italy and the demand has grown ever since. In the summer of 2017, retailers, including myself, were inundated with allocation requests from wine suppliers to super yachts on the Med for Ornellaia Bianco, the oligarchs chosen summer wine of choice.


Of course this phenomena was a simple reflection of absolute scarcity and sublime quality, not marketing prowess. But needless to say, the birth of the 2015 vintage was highly anticipated. 2015 was a text book vintage after a standard winter. July proved to be very hot and dry with temperatures over 30 degrees C every day of the month. With fears of an early, problematic vintage rising, rain arrived on the 10th August to unblock ripening and healthy white grapes were eventually harvested in the last week of August.


Ornellaia Bianco 2015, IGT Toscana, Bolgheri, 13.5 Abv.

The produce of north facing vineyards planted on sandy clay-rich soils, the 2015 harvest represents an almost perfect vintage. The wine shows a defined mineral laden expression, with crushed granite and wet river pebbles, and plenty of black currant leaf, tart gooseberry, green apple and tart pineapple pastille fruit precision. There are also ample herbal notes punctuated by saffron, dried mint leaf and baking herb spices. The palate is taught and crisp with intense concentration of waxy green apples, cassis, greengage, and boiled green apple bon bons with just an ever so slight lick of honey. The finish is bold, bright and beautifully saline, leaving the wine to impose a thoroughly mineral, “Pouilly Fume’esque” minerality footprint. At 100% Sauvignon Blanc in this vintage, there are ample reminders of the finest Bordeaux whites, which suggests this vintage will age comfortably for 12 to 15+ years. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Ethereal Le Brunate Cru Barolo from Francesco Rinaldi…

The 2010 releases from Barolo took the fine wine world by storm, just at a time when connoisseurs and collectors were looking to champion a new region after falling out of love with Bordeaux and its pricing misery. The wines were fantastic from all over the Piedmont region, from east to west, combining concentration, power, classism, balance and age ability.


Then 2011 was to Barbaresco, what 2010 was to Barolo, really putting a number of top producers on the map with extremely fine Nebbiolo expressions. Piedmont was on the ascendancy. 2012 was a ripe, fruit forward, opulent, fleshy, earlier drinking vintage across the region, giving consumers wines they could drink before their 2010s or 2011s. Then came the 2013s, thankfully another cracker of a vintage, especially for Barolo, to help satiate the never ending consumer demand.

This week tasted through the whole range of Barolos from one of my favourite producers, Francesco Rinaldi. The wines may not be as famous or as sought after as Giuseppe Rinaldi, but the elegance, perfume, and ethereal purity that Francesco Rinaldi wines display, make them highly prized by Barolo as well as Burgundy lovers.


My absolute favourite has to be their Le Brunate Cru, from a 2 hectare parcel in the communes of Barolo and La Morra. South east facing with clay soils, the vines were planted from 1979 to 1981. Wines are fermented in stainless steel and concrete and then aged in 2000 and 5000 litre Slavonian oak barrels for at least three years.


Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Le Brunate Barolo 2013, 14 Abv.
Brilliant ruby garnet colour, this is certainly a wine with ethereal, perfumed majesty. Youthful and bold, the nose is packed with liquid minerals, wet chalk, and crushed granite nuances that melt into notes of dried rose petals, parma violets, cherry blossoms, crystallised cherries, fresh fennel, and aniseed root earthiness. The palate is seamless, finely textured, and harmonious severe with ripe powdery grippy mineral tannins, balanced by intense maraschino cherry, cranberry, and sour red plum fruits. The Nebbiolo power married with Burgundian style finesse, fragrance, and freshness make for a supremely attractive wine. Lovely tension, taught tannins, and piercing, ethereal purity, this is one hell of a wine. Drink from 2018 to 2040+.

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

Castellari Isola del Giglio ~ The Italian White Wine Treasure Off the Tuscan Coast…

Castellari Isola del Giglio is the realisation of the viticultural dream of South African Manfred Ing, better know as the head winemaker for Tuscan winery Querciabella in Gaiole. Together with joint venture partner Simone Ghelli, who had been visiting the island since the 1990s, Manfred started this sideline wine project on this ancient Tuscan granitic island of Giglio in the Mediterranean. 


Manfred’s love of the land lead him to rediscover the ancient, abandoned vineyards on the steep terraced hillside slopes of Giglio, and so he set about producing fine wine from the indigenous Ansonica grapes. This labour of love started with their first vintage in 2013 and has slowly grown to a production of just over 900 bottles for the 2015 vintage.


“Calzo della Vignia” originates in the Castellari and Finocchio vineyards on this windswept island, characterized by its loose granitic soils. The wine attempts to respect the traditional ways of winemaking in Giglio, using only 100% Ansonica grapes that were hand picked from two vineyards in early September. Back in the cellar, once destemmed, the Ansonica was fermented naturally on its skins for up to 3 months. The wine was then pressed off into old French oak barrels where maturation continued for several months before bottling.


Castellari Isola del Giglio Calzo della Vignia Toscana Bianco IGT 2015, 12 Abv.

The dark gold, straw yellow colour reveals this wine’s 3 months ageing on its skins. This really is a tantalising gourmet wine, and one taste would be enough to make the most seasoned sommelier week at the knees. But this wine is certainly not so esoteric so as to only appeal to wine geeks, foodies, and hipsters. The aromatics are profound, displaying complex notes of lime zest, pineapple pastille, white pepper, yellow grapefruit pith, and dusty pear drops. There are also plenty of attractive phenolic nuances melting into a complex melange of peach skins, orchard fruits, baked apple skins and pithy, wet stone minerality. The aromatic components lift out the glass in perfect harmony. The palate too is very fine, focused and intense, with vibrant white peach fruit, soft bright acids, pithy grippy sherbet powder tannins, sun dried pineapples and mangoes, dedicated coconut, and a dry, saltly Sauternes-like finish. Heady and evocative, this wine shows great elegance, power and terroir specificity. A wine for food as well as contemplation. Utterly delicious.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Profound, Ground Breaking White Wine From Northern Italy…

Broglia’s unique Gavi di Gavi Vecchia Annata 2009 comes from the best, hand-picked Cortese grapes from the oldest vineyards of the Tenuta La Meirana, planted between 1953 and 1955. 


The 2009 vintage was characterized by regular flowering in the first ten days of June and a hot summer with significant diurnal temperature variation. Those conditions, combined with “sur lie” ageing in steel tanks and regular batonnage for 85 months have given this ‘Super Gavi’ great structure and a profound intensity of flavours and aromas. The wine bears comparison to a fine White Burgundy, in terms of elegance, texture and depth of flavour. 


This is a truly unique wine, made in extremely limited quantities and it will not be out of place on the finest wine lists. This collector’s item is a real first for Gavi and demonstrates the region’s quality. If you are partial to some of the Cantina Terlaner Rarita aged white releases, then this is the wine for you. At £89 per bottle, it’s fractionally cheaper than the Rarita £100+ releases, but equally as rare and desirable. 


Tenuta La Meirana Broglia Vecchia Annata 2009, Gavi di Gavi DOCG, 13.5 Abv.

Beautiful lemon lime straw colour. Wow. A very complex nose of pear purée, tarte tatin, baked apples, cinnamon and marzipan spices. Intriguing notes of dried figs, wet straw and cut grass aromatics. Unfurls in the glass as you’d expect from a wine with this type of lengthy ageing and pedigree. Lovely saline notes on the nose carry to the palate in a pithy, zippy, aromatic melange of pear skins, grated apples, yellow orchard fruits and a spicy, dusty, alluring minerality. The finish long, mesmerisingly austere, stony and intense with hints of dried herbs, nuts, brine, ripe pears and dusty crushed chalk. Intriguing notes of red cherry fruit develop together with complex almond skin spice and pithy bitter walnut on a fresh Chablis-like finish. A wine that is very much a ‘gourmet’ food wine that offers up a whole lot of intrigue and impressive winemaking ambition.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Tasting the Impressive Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d’Alba Vigna Valmaggiore 2013 DOC, 14 Abv…

No doubt about it, 2013 is another very serious year in Piedmont. Whether Barolo or Barbaresco, or indeed further afield, I have tried so many wines over the past year and have tasted very few disappointments. It’s a cracking vintage for Barbera, Dolchetto, and of course Nebbiolo.

Generally speaking, a cool, wet spring delayed the growing season and lowered overall yields. A cool summer ripened the grapes slowly, but in areas where the rain stayed away through autumn, growers could pick ripe, balanced fruit.


This Nebbiolo from Giacosa speaks volumes for the quality of the estate and the vintage. There is such beautifully seductive, lifted, perfume of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, graphite, aniseed root and black cherry and earthy red fruits. The palate too is dense, sweetly fruited and nuanced with layers of spicy liquorice, pithy red cherry, red apple skins, granitic minerality and a long, kirsch laden finish. I’ve drunk many DOCG Barolos that don’t have either the depth of fruit nor structure of this mere Langhe Nebbiolo. Whatever political problems the Giacosa estate has experienced over the past years, when they get it right, the results are compelling!

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