The undisputed red co-operative champion of the wine world, Produttori del Barbaresco produce, year after year, some of the most scintillating wines of Barbaresco and indeed Piedmont. Masters of Nebbiolo, the 2018 vintage with its cool, damp and fresh weather conditions served up a long list of challenges for producers, yet after all was said and done, many wineries made some exceptional wines fully deserving of the vintage’s 4-star rating with an emphasis on short to medium-term drinking over long-term cellaring.
Produtorri del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2018, DOCG Barbaresco, 14.5% Abv.
We all know when Produttori del Barbaresco decide not to bottle all their great nine grower crus, the resulting wines are all blended into the Barbaresco DOCG normale cuvee. 2018 is just such a vintage and sure enough, eager collectors have been waiting for this super charged Nebbiolo release. On initial examination, the wine shows the most pretty, lifted, inviting aromatics of dried rose petals, crushed coriander, tart red cherries, salty blueberries and a seductive red liquorice complexity. On the palate, there is an attractive translucent purity and silky filigree tannins that combine with a suave, lithe, harmonious concentration of red cherry candied fruits, touches of tar, saline cassis, sloe berries and a finish that typifies true, pure classical Nebbiolo fruit. While the seductive allure of the perfumed aromatics currently outpace the slightly backwardness of the palate fruit density and structure, all the signs in the glass point to another extremely fine and supremely attractive Barbaresco release. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.
With the Gaja Crus of Sori Tilden, Sori San Lorenzo and Costa Russi now almost out of the financial reach of many fine wine consumers, the annual new release of Gaja’s perennially impressive DOCG Barbaresco has certainly taken on a new level of interest and attention from the broader ranks of the global fine wine trade. So when Gaia Gaja made her first trip back to London since the beginning of the pandemic, the stage was set for an exciting Barbaresco launch.
After the warm and dry 2017 harvest, the 2018 vintage was characterised by early flowering and then a cooler summer with periods of rain that proved challenging to grape growers. Indeed, between the 1st of May and the 15th of June, the region saw pretty much uninterrupted rain showers which resulted in downy and powdery mildew in many areas. To compound the problems, the 17th of July saw hail hit the Barbaresco vineyards… “because the hail canons of the town were not used in time because all the villagers were watching Italy play France at football”… Gaia Gaja joked. A more windy, dry and hot September brought on the start of the harvest slightly ahead of schedule with picking finishing on the 9th of October. Despite the challenges of the weather during the growing season, 2018 is generally considered a better vintage than the warmer 2017, yielding wines with great purity, minerality and refinement.
In 2018, no Crus were made at Gaja for the first time since 2012, with all the Sori Tilden fruit and half of the Costa Russi fruit being blended into the DOCG Barbaresco (part of Costa Russi is being replanted). No Sori San Lorenzo wine was produced. While normally a blend of 14 parcels around Barbaresco, the 2018 did see some of these parcels excluded from the blend but the additions of the Cru fruit certainly acted to bolster the cepage quality considerably.
Gaja Barbaresco 2018, DOCG Barbaresco, 14% Abv.
Wonderfully pure and translucent with gorgeous red cherry and ruby hues. The nose shows impressively perfumed, opulent, hedonistic notes of stewed strawberries, fraise des bois, cured bresaola, tilled earth, tar, salty red liquorice and beautifully detailed nuances of aniseed stick. The palate texture is dense yet crisp, fresh, creamy and full in the mouth with a weighty mid-palate concentration, layered chalky, stony mineral Nebbiolo tannins over black cherry and tart blueberry fruits. This is a classical expression of Barbaresco that will appeal to the purists and collectors alike – Very fine, perfumed and beautifully expressive but also powerful, super seductive and accessible. Drink now and over the next 25+ years.
It is no secret that for the past decade, Bordeaux negociants have been marking out new territory and colonising a whole new array of fine wine producers outside of their usual Bordeaux remit, from Bolgheri to Napa, Constantia to Aconcagua Valley. Slowly but surely, more and more international producers have been lured in and shifted all or most of their distribution into Europe via ‘the Place’… named after the de facto En-primeur institution that is the Place de Bordeaux.
I regularly get asked about the pros and cons of moving one’s distribution solely to the Place, but I will save that discussion for another day because today the authoritative Bordeaux negociant CVBG rolled into London town and presented a pretty spectacular array of collectable new releases. With Covid protocols in practice, tastings were restricted to timed slots so my notes are short and brief.
The New Italian Releases:
Caiarossa 2018, Toscana
A blend of 30% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Sangiovese and 2% Alicante. The initial impression is one of fine-tuned richness and opulence with expressive complexity. Palate is packed with black currant fruits, dusty mocha and lovely well integrated fine grained gravelly tannins. A well-conceived Tuscan blend that performs.
(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Bibi Graetz Testamatta 2019, Toscana
This 100% Sangiovese cuvee from the famed Bibi Graetz shows impressive perfume of white lily blossom combined with a lifted, piquant spice that melts into red currants, liquorice and pink musk. In the mouth it is bright, fresh and weightlessly concentrated, bristling with tart red cherry, hints of tar, red liquorice and finishes with a long, classical gravelly mineral persistence. A very smart wine indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Bibi Graetz Colore 2019, Toscana
Produced from three 100% Sangiovese vineyard sites with 70, 80 and 90-year-old vines, this iconic cuvee from Bibi Graetz is a monumental effort resonating with a rich deep opulent nose of extroverted blue and black berry fruit nuances that are layered and cool on the palate with an impressively creamy textured mouthfeel packed with intensity, a sleek salty complexity and a generous caramelised kiss of blueberry fruit. Delicious in every sense.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Marchesi Antinori Solaia 2018, Toscana
From the famously cooler 2018 growing season in Tuscany, this Solaia retains an authoritatively deep, dark, rich and bold character while simultaneously showing impressive subtlety, complex notes of cedar, lead pencil, graphite and pithy herby black currant fruits. The palate is full and robust, spicy and intense with freshness and fabulous focus. A definitively herby cool vintage character evident in this complex imposing wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Tenuta del Ornellaia Massetino 2019, Toscana
This notoriously difficult to buy, small production second wine from the Masseto estate in Bolgheri is a blend of 94% Merlot with 6% Cabernet Franc. Exceptionally well proportioned and balanced, the nose is positively brimming with dark broody black berry fruits with interwoven notes of sweet cedar spice, black plum, vanilla pod, blueberry crumble and a sleek graphite complexity with fine grained tannins on the finish. Powerful but also seductive.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Tenuta del Ornellaia Masseto 2018, Toscana
This 100% Merlot is wonderfully dark and opaque in colour, the aromatics are vibrant and expressive bursting with notes of violets and pink flowers, dried rose petals and white flowers melting into notes of sour plum and ripe macerated cherries. The palate is cool and fresh with focused glassy acids, an impressive taut linearity and the most engrossing and precise textural balance imaginable. There is intensity and refreshing length of dark berry fruits that combine with strikingly mineral graphite tannins that finish with great power and authority. Another benchmark Masseto.
The Guado al Tasso estate is located in the small but prestigious Bolgheri DOC appellation on the coast of Upper Maremma, about one hundred kilometers southwest of Florence. This appellation has a relatively recent history as it was only established in 1994 but has since gained worldwide recognition as a new reference point in the international fine wine scene.
Il Bruciato, the second wine, was first produced in 2002 in one of the most difficult vintages ever for the famous Guado al Tasso estate. The wine is now regarded as a modern interpretation of Bolgheri’s unique terroir made from carefully selected Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes from all around Guado al Tasso’s vineyards.
The 2019 vintage’s growing season saw relatively cool weather in April and May then hot, dry conditions throughout the end of July. The slight delay in the vines’ initial growth cycle evened out as summer began. A sudden rise in temperatures caused the vines to produce lighter, loosely packed clusters, especially notable in the late ripening varieties where fruit set wasn’t yet fully completed. The months of August and September brought steady sunny weather that allowed grapes to progress to full ripeness in optimal conditions.
Harvesting operations began with Merlot at the beginning of September and were completed with Cabernet Sauvignon at the beginning of October. The other grape varieties, Syrah and smaller quantities of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, were picked during the last half of September.
Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with Merlot, Syrah and a small percentage of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot and the final blend was reintroduced into barriques where it was left to age before bottling.
Antinori Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato 2019, Bolgheri DOC, 14.5% Abv.
Always an exceptional wine of compelling quality, the fresher, more structured 2018 sold out very quickly after release making the 2019 even more anticipated. An exciting new vintage, the wine is decidedly more opulent and generously fruited with aromatics of black cherry tobacco, black berry, graphite, iron filings, sweet cedar and purple rock candy confectionary nuances on the finish. On the palate there is an impressive depth of fruit with a notable glycerol, mouth-filling breadth together with sweet creamy mineral tannins and a fleshy mocha-laced black berry fruit accessibility. Where the 2018 was slightly more angular, cooler and nervy, the 2019 is more seductive, opulent, luxurious and obviously riper. While this is a wine that has increased in price significantly over the past few years it remains a real must-buy for regular Bolgheri enthusiasts.
Dublin based wine merchant and Master of Wine Mick O’Connell has finally released his new vinous creations from Sardinia. Not only do we get a 5th vintage of his Garnacha this year but also a mighty quaffable Vermentino white just in time for the European summer.
Loyal followers of the Cancedda O’Connell project will want to watch out closely for these two new release micro vinifications that look set to hit European wine shelves in the coming months.
Buccia not Battles V1 Vermentino, Vino Bianco, Sardinia, 11% Abv.
Pithy and expressive, this exciting white boasts aromatic notes of dry summer grass, dried herbs, roasted nuts, peach stones and pithy pear drop. The palate has definition and balance with a tangy freshness, juicy pear pastille, green apple purée and candied yellow orchard fruit notes. A fine maiden Vino Bianco release from this winery.
(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Garnacha not Guerra V5 (2019) Vino Rosso, Sardinia, 11.5% Abv.
This shows all the fabulous lift and aromatic perfume of a Sardinian garden in full bloom boasting notes of violets, lavender, crushed raspberries, sun ripened cranberry and subtle hints of red liquorice stick. The palate is light, pure and ethereal with a deliciously moreish acidity, fine powdery mineral tannins and mouthwatering nuances of blood orange, sour red plum, wild strawberry and a delicious melange of vermouth herbs and pithy bramble berry spice. The perfect light touch red for summer quaffing.
IDDA is an exciting joint venture winery project between Angelo Gaja of Piedmontese fame and Alberto Graci that may have passed some people by unnoticed when its first red was released post lockdown 1.0 in July 2020. Together they own 20+ hectares of vineyards in the villages of Belpasso and Biancavilla which are currently planted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante located at 700 to 800 metres above sea level on the south-western slopes of Etna where only three other wineries are located.
The 2017 was the first vintage of the IDDA Etna Rosso red and a pretty smart effort it was as well. However, 2017 was from a much warmer, riper vintage and while the finished product in the bottle was very high quality, the cooler, fresher, more ethereal expression of 2018 is for me, far more typical of the lighter, more elegant styles of wine associated with Etna and more specifically, the Nerello Mascalese grape.
Gaja Idda 2018 Etna Rosso, 14.5% Abv.
Fermentation and maceration for the 2018 Rosso lasted for around three weeks, partially in oak and partially in concrete vats. The wine then spent a further 24 months ageing in oak and concrete. The 2018 is fabulously bright, lifted and perfumed with a pale translucent cherry red colour. There are pretty aromatics of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, musk and earthy red bramble berry fruits supported by a complementary leafy sapidity and dusty, peppery, five spice nuances. On the palate an impressive clarity and purity of fruit is notable with cool juicy red berries, red cherry, bitter almonds, grilled herbs and slightly drying, chewy, grippy volcanic basaltic mineral tannins on the finish. Already beautifully harmonious and elegant, this wine certainly doesn’t lack any focus and structure in its youth and is undoubtedly a vintage perfectly suited to Etna and Nerello Mascalese where the purity and finesse of the fruit finds a wonderful symmetry with the freshness and minerality. This has class written all over it. Drink from release and over 8 to 12+ years.
Admittedly, I love Barolo and drink a lot of all the top producer’s wines at any chance I get, but I have to be honest that while I’d heard a little bit about the Luigi Pira wines, I had never tasted any. So what a way to acquaint oneself with a new Barolo producer’s wines than to taste their blockbuster 2016s!
Founded by the Pira family in 1950, this Serralunga estate consists of 12 hectares of vineyards at 300 metres above sea level with winemaking duties overseen by Giampaolo Pira. Vigna Marenca and Vigna Margheria are reputed to be some of the best vineyards in the township of Serralunga and this estate produces single vineyard Baroli from plots owned in all of these crus (which can be seen from the azienda’s terrace). In the 1950s the grapes were initially sold off. In the subsequent years, small quantities of Barolo started to be bottled at the estate.
In 1993 the Baroli Margheria and Marenca were produced followed by Barolo Vigna Rionda in 1997. The wines from these three crus are typical of the great terroir of Serralunga displaying great minerality, intensity and power. Barolo Margheria, made from 50-year-old vines, is the most classical. Barolo Marenca and Barolo Vigna Rionda are structured and complex, with a lot of muscle and age ability. But tasting all these crus for the first time was certainly an exciting exercise.
Luigi Pira Serralunga Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.
The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Serralunga is another fabulously dense and sweetly fruited Nebbiolo that has just the most seductive aromatics of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, orange peel, tea tree oil, tart red cherries and an exotic licorice and wild herb botanical top note. The palate is cool, plush and powerful with fleshy layers of red and black cherry, char grilled herbs, dried ginger and plenty of dried thyme and sage. True to the iconic 2016 vintage, this wine combines classical Serralunga structure and power with a beautiful fruit opulence and concentration. Deliciously accessible and fresh, this is another Barolo beauty from the vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Luigi Pira Margheria Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.
The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Margheria is an exotic, complex expression of the vintage with the most intricate aromatics of pressed purple flowers, pink musk , cherry cola, licorice and tar, dried rose petals and the most personality filled botanical, herbal vermouth spice nuances. The tannins are powerful and grainy coating the mouth with a fabulously plush mineral grip. On the palate there are hints of saline cassis, black cherry and bramble berry spice with a long, liquid mineral stony finish. This possess all the power and structure to last a very long time in the cellar. Something very serious but also very magical from a fantastic Barolo vintage. (7,000 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Luigi Pira Marenca Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.
With one of the only other Marenca Crus produced going into the Gaja Sperss Barolo cuvee, you know this is a very special site. So with Sperss 2016 garnering a perfect 100 points from the Wine Advocate, you would expect this wine to also show something extra special sharing the same terroir. This Marenca is almost like a subtle blend of the Pira Margheria and the Pira Serralunga Barolo wines with rich, plump, bold dark berry nuances, pink musk, charcoal embers, licorice and potpourri spice but also notes of freshly tilled earth, crushed gravel, iron and blood together with a fabulous dried herb and wood spice melange. The palate is deceptively generous and cool with seductively textured layers of blue and black berry fruits, cassis, black currant, purple rock candy, graphite and the most suave fleshy plump tannins I have tasted on a Nebbiolo in a long time. This really is classy and classical, yet supremely ripe, intense and just drop dead gorgeous. A very fine effort from Pira!
I was delighted to learn today that 10 new Masters of Wine have been announced and will join this elite group of global wine professions who operate at the pinnacle of wine achievement.
Considering the incredibly difficult and trying times we find ourselves in due to the pandemic in the 2020/21 academic year, this positive news certainly is a ray of hope and sunshine confirming that life does indeed continue, if not completely unhindered, and reminds us of a better time to come. Congratulations to my 10 new colleagues joining us at the Institute of Masters of Wine.
Based in five countries, the new IMW members – including the first MW based in Italy – are James Doidge MW (UK), Gabriele Gorelli MW (Italy), Susan Lin MW (US), Moritz Nikolaus Lueke MW (Germany), Sophie Parker-Thomson MW (New Zealand), Álvaro Ribalta Millán MW (UK), Tze Sam MW (UK), Melissa Saunders MW (US), Kryss Speegle MW (US) and Clare Tooley MW (US).
There are now 418 MWs globally – 149 women and 269 men living or working in 32 countries. Since the first exam hosted in 1953, 493 people have become a Master of Wine.
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta is one of Angelo Gaja’s two Tuscan properties, on the site of an old church, Santa Restituta, which dates back to the 4th century. As is the family’s style, their’s is a fusion of modern and traditional winemaking. They too own land on the Buonconvento Northern side of Montalcino and some prestigious lands in the South, a stone’s throw from Sesti. The Northern sites normally go into the Brunello di Montalcino with Sugarille and Rennina located around the winery on the Southern side of the town being bottled individually as Crus. These three Brunellos from one of the finest names in Italian wine are impeccably crafted and full of character, finesse and age ability.
The best 2016 Brunellos are truly complex and captivating wines characterised by deep ruby colours, pure and vivid aromas, with many showing powerful structures but also finesse and grace with lively freshness and ripe, muscular mineral tannins.
The 2016 season started slowly, with cool temperatures and frequent rains until June. The summer was mostly warm and dry (average temperature of 35 °C), a unique heavy and refreshing rainfall occurred in August. Strong diurnal temperature exchanges during the ripening period contributed, together with appropriate agronomical techniques, to a slow and even ripening of the grapes. The harvest (with an average temperature of 30 °C) started on September 14th and finished on October 6 th.
Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2016 DOCG, 14% Abv.
The 2016 Brunello di Montalcino normale is a fabulously plush, concentrated and intense expression of Brunello and represents probably the estate’s best vintage to date. The aromatics are perfumed and detailed showing cherry blossom, violets, vanilla oak spice and ripe dark layers of red and black berries, sweet cherry tobacco, cola and subtle red liquorice notes with just the faintest spearmint menthol top note. On the palate, the tannins are ripe but powerful with broad mouth-coating grip supported by pure cherry and cranberry fruit concentration, hints of balsamic, crystalline fresh acids and a wonderfully long harmonious finish. Distinguished and refined, but showing tremendous breadth, depth and structural power making this a perfect wine for medium to long-term cellaring. Drink from 2024 to 2036+
Founded in 1893, the Cantina Terlano winery is now regarded as one of the leading wine growers’ cooperatives in South Tyrol, Italy, with a current membership of 143 growers working a total area of 190 hectares. That is the equivalent of some 1.5 million bottles of wine a year overseen by head winemaker Rudi Kofler.
Cantina Terlano and their members have long had a strong focus on quality which has attracted praise and recognition on not only the local Italian market but also on all international fine wine markets. If there are better white wines produced by a co-operative anywhere else in the world I’d like to know about it! Indeed, many of their iconic and memorable wines from the 1950s and 1960s, which rank amongst the greatest white wines ever produced, were made at Cantina Terlaner.
The unique microclimate at the foot of Mount Tschöggel determines the potential age-worthiness and the characteristics of these wines. The soils are very rich in schists and porphyry, a rocky nature that allows for heat accumulation and excellent water drainage.
I write a lot about the fascinating white blends made in South Africa, but the Alto Adige DOC is another one of the few areas in the world that also champions premium white blends of exceptional quality. This cuvee Nova Domus Riserva is a classical regional blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Cantina Terlano Nova Domus 2017 Terlaner Riserva, Alto Adige Terlano DOC, 14% Abv.
This is one of the most seductive and majestic Italian white wines I’ve tasted in a long time. The nose suggests great precision and restraint with focused complexity, showing subtle notes of white flowers, dried baking herbs, waxy green apples, crunchy pineapple, sea breeze and a stony minerality. The palate is taut and restrained initially but then slowly starts to reveal plenty of pineapple pastille, apple purée, green pear fruits and the most precise, structured, crystalline purity on the finish. The use of more older oak (compared to earlier vintages) is noticeable allowing the pristine fruit purity and terroir minerality to really shine. This is certainly an Italian Grand Cru white of exceptional quality. Drink now and over 10+ years.