Sassicaia 2019 New Vintage Release Tasting In London…

I have commented before that it’s pure genius that Tenuta San Guido release their new Sassicaia vintage every year along side the next years Guidalberto and Le Difese red blends, enabling tasters to indulge in a unique snapshot of what is in the pipeline for the next Sassicaia release. It builds a full year of excitement and anticipation in the wine trade which counts as priceless promotion in marketing terms!

Priscilla Incisa della Rochetta was due to fly into London recently to present the new 2019 Sassicaia release but was sadly confined to her home office after one of her children tested positive for covid after returning from a family ski break. So, we hooked up by zoom instead and shared Tenuta San Guido’s wonderful new releases together virtually.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2020, 14% Abv.

A rather challenging, warm vintage especially in the summer that was mitigated by good rains in 2019 and some 2020 Spring showers. With a broad array of vineyards to select fruit from and a percentage of earlier ripening Sangiovese, the blend was assembled to 55% Sangiovese and 45% for the Cabernet Sauvignon, departing from the usual split of 70-30 Cabernet-Sangiovese.

Bight and richly fruited, there are ample layers of black currant, earthy tobacco spice, sweet black plum and bruleed brown toast notes. But the palate is vibrant and electric, full of energy and fresh acids that bring the black and red berry fruits to life while also adding frame and structure in the mouth. The tannins are wonderfully sleek, fine grained and elegant with a subtle minerality and hints of graphite. A deliciously fresh and refined expression of this earlier drinking cuvée.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2020, 14% Abv.

Slightly higher Merlot component rising from 40% to 50%, with the remainder all Cabernet Sauvignon, sticking with the theme of a higher percentage of the earlier ripening variety than normal. 

Deep and darkly coloured, the aromatics are rich and fruity with opulent savoury aromatic layers of bruleed black currant, creme caramel, cut cedar, sweet tobacco and an exotic dusting of youthful cinnamon spice. The palate is fleshy and opulent with a pronounced sweet and sour tangy acidity, a full sleek mid-palate weight and a long, plumy tobacco spice finish. Harmonious, finely balance and offering a great expectation of drinking pleasure for the next 10 to 15 years.

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2019, 14% Abv. 

The 2019 is a very classic vintage that follows a perfect pattern through all phases of the season. Grapes were healthy and perfectly mature allowing a long hang time for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon due marked diurnal temperature shifts and a relaxed, gently paced picking window. Great structure, low pHs and a fresh acidity all point to a long ageing potential.

Deep, dark, broody aromatics that are tight and reserved currently, with a traditional blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. The aromatics show layers of violets, damson plum, black currant, blood orange, sweet cedar, grilled herbs, oak spice and black currant infused herbal tea nuances. On the palate the density is clear and present, full, opulent and concentrated, gliding over the tongue with great textural weight but also fleshy fruit power, seamless fine grained creamy tannins and all round finesse and majestic balance. Pure class… profound on so many levels and perhaps, along with the 2016 vintage, one of the most attractive Sassicaia releases in the past 20+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri Estate Releases Some Triumphant 2019 Reds…

As the world gets back to normal after pandemic disruptions, new fine wine releases are also slowly getting back on track and becoming more frequent. Today I was privileged to join one of my favourite wine personalities, Gaia Gaja, for a true celebration of 20 years of Ca’ Marcanda including a tutored tasting and a preview of the fabulous new 2019 releases.

Magari is an Italian expression holding different meanings: “If only it was true…!” or “I wish…!” It is said to carry a sort of irony which usually leads people to smile, and I can tell you this Magari 2019 certainly made me smile with pleasure. Undoubtedly always one of my favourite cuvées in the range that includes the Promis and Ca’ Marcanda flagship Rosso, once again the superb Magari expression delivers something very special indeed.

The entrancing Gaia Gaja resplendent in the London Spring sunshine of Pall Mall.

Made from fruit grown on classic dark Bolgheri soils rich in limestone and clay, the three varieties were fermented and macerated separately for around 15 days before circa 12 months of oak barrel ageing. The maiden release was vintage 2000. Watch out for all the new, incredibly serious but seductive releases from Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri.

Ca’ Marcanda Magari 2019, Bolgheri Rosso, 14.5% Abv.

The 2019 Magari is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Showing taut broody aromatics in its youth, this is a very serious linear Magari that needs coaxing to come out and play. Wonderfully dark fruited with cool limestone minerality, lavender, graphite and subtle oak spice notes, the palate is incredibly fine and polished, super precise and harmonious with a five star balance and intensity. The finish is cool, creamy and beautifully pure with smoky creme de cassis and a pithy black cherry elegance that very slowly melts away on the long, persistent finish. Stern but seductive and very serious! Bravo Gaja! Drink from 2024 to 2044+.

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

Produttori del Barbaresco Release Their New Langhe Nebbiolo 2020…

This famed co-operative in Piedmont dates back to 1894; forced to close in the 1920s because of fascist economic rules, it was regenerated and revived in 1958 by the village priest of Barbaresco who recognized that the only way the small properties could survive long term was by joining forces and combining their efforts. Today the cooperative has 56 members and 100+ hectares of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation, which amounts to almost 1/6th of the vineyards of the appellation.

Their Langhe Nebbiolo in particular has long been one of the greatest and most profound value reds on the international wine market, recognised and lauded unanimously by critics far and wide. With the new 2020 releases, it will of course take some time before a more complete assessment of the vintage can be formed and final conclusions made about the potential quality of the embryonic Barbaresco and Barolo wines in barrel. But like much of Europe, Italy experienced a warmer than average growing season in 2020 which resulted in an earlier than usual harvest. Current evidence suggests that the earlier ripening varieties like Barbera were picked in great health, while the warm days and cool nights proved perfectly suited for the late-ripening Nebbiolo grapes.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2020, 14% Abv.

Produttori del Barbaresco makes its Langhe Nebbiolo with declassified Barbaresco fruit (often from parcels on lower slopes) so production volumes are notably reduced in the better vintages when more of the prime fruit finds its way into their delicious village Barbaresco DOCG or indeed one of the classy nine Cru Riservas. This young 2020 Nebbiolo certainly shows great promise with an immediately attractive array of aromatics that boast dark cherry, damson plum, sweet herbs, blood orange and a slight menthol top note. Always wonderfully intense and potent, the palate displays a medium bodied weight of red and black berry fruits, macerated strawberries and sweet cherries with an underlying cool, suave elegance and a fresh acid vitality. The finish is creamy and plush with soft plump tannins, subtle piquant black liquorice notes and a pure, weightless length. Delightfully streamlined and accessible, this 2020 continues a fine run of vintages for Produttori del Barbaresco. Drink from release and over 5 to 8 years.

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

Giuseppe Cortese Profiles Some of Their New Releases Ahead of Nebbiolo Day…

One of the oldest and most famous producers in Barbaresco, Giuseppe Cortese makes some of the regions most classically proportioned wines from their eight hectares of vineyards, over four of which are located in the iconic Cru of Rabaja. Producing wines according to traditional methods but using the latest modern winemaking technology, Azienda Agricola Cortese has managed to bridge the gap between high quality and affordability.

With new vintages recently released and on their way to the UK, today I tasted a snap shot of their new wines with one of their main importers, Wood Winters UK.

Giuseppe Cortese Langhe Bianco DOC Scapulin 2019, 12% Abv.

Using spontaneous Chardonnay fermentation in stainless steel before being divided into an amphora, a stainless steel and a large French old oak portion in roughly thirds for 9 to 10 months ageing before being blended. The nose shows hints of flinty stony reduction with almond skins, limestone, white citrus and dried herbs. The palate is sleek, polished and textural with leesy, pithy almond skins, wet river pebble stony nuances and a long, full, smokey finish with just a hint of marzipan. A lovely gastronomic expression of Chardonnay. Drink now to 2028+.

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

Giuseppe Cortese Morassina Barbera d’Alba 2016, 14.5% Abv.

Aged for 18 months in French oak barriques and large oak casks, the aromatics show lovely pure red and black berry notes with violets, cherry cola, red plums and earthy strawberries. On the palate the vibrancy and freshness shines through with a well balanced, integrated lick of oak, plenty of sweet spices, red liquorice and a fleshy full textured red fruited depth that is creamy and utterly seductive. Impressively balanced and harmonious, this is a whole lot of classy wine for the price.

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

Giuseppe Cortese DOCG Barbaresco 2018, 14.5% Abv.

Only produced since 2017, this second release shows a lovely translucent garnet ruby colour and an elegantly restrained nose of dried herbs, potpourri, red cherries, cola, blood orange and a hint of melted tar. The palate is cool and supple, texturally creamy and mineral with a lovely full mouthfeel, bright tart cherry acids, sweet red berry fruits and a fine stony mineral red fruited length. Very accessible now but retains enough stony fine grained mineral tannin tension to make this wine age worthy. Drink now to 2030+.

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

Giuseppe Cortese DOCG Barbaresco Rabaja 2018, 14.5% Abv.

The is a darker, broodier expression of Nebbiolo with plenty of black berry fruits, liquorice, tar, sweet truffle oil and tilled earth nuances intertwined with complex cedar spice and sappy sandalwood notes. The palate is bold and powerful with silky but potent mineral tannins, graphite spice, salty black liquorice and a long stony, pithy black cherry finish. A delicious expression that is surprisingly seductive now but will age for a decade or more.

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

Cantina Luigi Pira Releases an Impressive Barolo Cru Margheria 2017 to Defy the Challenges of the Vintage…

After a high quality 2015 vintage that produced ripe, well structured wines, the mesmerising 2016 vintage came along and took the global market for Barolo and Barbaresco by storm. Luscious, powerful and structured but with incredible balance, freshness and intensity, 2016 was certainly a vintage that was not going to be forgotten in a hurry.

With impossible expectations set for the 2017 Barolo releases, this hot, dry and much more challenging vintage was never going to be an easy sell to the mainstream collector market especially after so many customers had dug deep into their pockets to go long on the lauded 2016s. But great wineries are capable of producing accomplished wines even in the tricky vintages especially when the fruit comes from a high class vineyard site like the Cru Margheria in Serralunga.

Cantina Luigi Pira Barolo Margheria 2017, 14.5% Abv.

The Luigi Pira 2017 Barolo Cru Margheria is an exotically perfumed expression from this warmer, dryer vintage showing complex aromatics of purple flowers, violets, pink musk, hints of cherry cola, salty red liquorice, creme de cassis, tart blueberries and melted tar. The tannins are sweet and powdery, fine grained and mouth-coating, balanced by a wonderfully juicy, tangy tart red cherry acidity and a plush textured mineral grip. The 2017 is slightly more accessible and slimline than the block buster 2016 but no less seductive, elegant and alluring. Another very impressive and expressive Cru Barolo from Pira. Drink this now on release and over 10 to 12+ years.

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

Vietti’s New Release Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco 2019 Augurs Well for the New Vintages of Barolo Coming Soon…

The 2019 Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco might be an easy-drinking wine but it shows all the sophistication of Nebbiolo fruit that could easily pass for a village Barolo with grapes often sourced from Cru vineyards such as Fiasco, Bussia, Fossati, Bricco delle Viole and Ravera di Monteforte. Indeed, the name “Perbacco” as the story goes, translates into a somewhat entertaining “golly gosh” or “wow” because that was the reported reaction winemaker Luca Currado’s mother made when she first tasted the wine and was told it was not a Barolo!

The grapes for this wine are grown in various selected vineyards sites mostly in the Barolo area and a minor part in Barbaresco. The vineyard’s soils are made up of mostly marl (limestone in combination with clay) and the alcoholic fermentation generally lasts around three to four weeks at controlled temperatures (28°-32°) with the subsequent malolactic fermentation continuing in stainless steel tanks. Each parcel is processed and aged separately until the components are selected to be included for either the final blend of Perbacco or else left to age an extra two years longer to become DOCG Barolo Castiglione. Total ageing time for Perbacco wine components is approximately 16 to 18 months before bottling.

Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2019, 14% Abv.

Deep, dark and richly coloured, there is every suggestion this is going to be a big old wine! On the nose, the Nebbiolo fruit delivers aromatic layers of ripe sweet red cherries, red liquorice, hints of crème de cassis together with sweet herbal notes of freshly chopped parsley. But it’s on the palate where the true power and pedigree of this wine is revealed, showcasing intense concentrated small berry fruits, delicious purity and intensity, compact concentrated tannin extract and plenty of textured glycerol mouthfeel laced with pithy cherry and peppery spice notes. With quality and intensity like this, you can easily see why the Langhe Nebbiolo denomination is one of the fastest growing wine categories in the entire Piedmont region. Drink now with some rich wintery cuisine or else bury in your cellar for 3 to 5+ more years before revisiting.

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

Another Grand Release from the World’s Greatest Red Wine Co-Operative – Reviewing the Produttori del Barbaresco 2018…

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+.

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

Gaia Gaja Launches the New Release Gaja Barbaresco 2018 in London…

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.

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

Beyond Bordeaux – Reviewing the New Releases at the CVBG 2021 Portfolio Tasting in London…

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.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The Famed Antinori Guado Al Tasso Estate Releases a True Benchmark Il Bruciato 2019 Blend…

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.

Sunrise over the Guado Al Tasso 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.

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