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.
Faced with tasting and assessing the new 2018 Sassicaia, it is almost impossible not to recall the significance of the great past Sassicaia vintages ending in “8”. From the very beginning with the first commercial release in 1968 up to the 1988 that was thought by many influential critics to rival the great 100 point 1985. One thing all the greatest vintages of Sassicaia do have in common is the way the wines really excel and hit their zenith of quality in the cooler, more classical vintages.
With their exceptional fruit grown in their own ‘monopole’ territorial delimitation of DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, it is perhaps fitting that the name Sassicaia itself means stones in the local dialect and leads you directly to the exceptional terroir that lies at the heart of one of the greatest red wines in Italy.
The 2018 vintage was undoubtedly a classical year for Tenuta San Guido. With the cold winter characterised by lengthy periods of rain and an unusually cold snowy period at the end of February, which those across the UK and Western Europe will remember as the “Beast from the East”, a chilling weather pattern that descended across Europe from icy Siberia, all the elements were in place for perfect vineyard dormancy and the elimination of pests and parasites.
While Spring was cool and constant with slowly rising temperatures and sunny days, May saw the return of rain and wind. The growing season from Spring to Summer was very favourable with ample ground water supplies, normal constant temperatures without any excessive heat spikes and importantly, cool temperatures in the night. With longer than normal hanging times for the grapes, the season allowed for the slow progressing of phenolic ripeness and the development of intricate aromatics and vibrant acidities.
Harvest began on average 7 to 8 days later than normal on the 6th of September and ended on October 4th with the collection of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in the Vigna di Castiglioncello and Vigna del Quercione vineyards located at higher altitudes of around 360 metres above sea level.
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2018, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, 13.5% Abv.
One of the true signs of a wine’s greatness is its ability to capture the very essence of every changing vintage through its liquid terroir representation. This long cool vintage is captured beautifully in this latest Sassicaia release that is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. While showing plenty of taut, wound spring tension and aromatic restraint, the finery of this vintage slowly but surely reveals itself in slow, subtle, delicate perfumed waves of violets, cherry blossom and lavender hints all supported by intense mouth-watering notes of small black cherries, cranberries, earthy blueberries, cola and stony dark notes of blood and graphite. The oak use is almost imperceptible, melting into the fruit concentration like cherry cordial into water. On the palate, the mouthfeel shows incredible purity, density, intensity and focus with impressively creamy, compact, velvety ripe tannins that buttress the red and black berry fruits and the vibrant energetic acidity. But if there is one true stand out feature of this wine in its youth, it’s the wine’s incredible harmony and seamless balance in the mouth that points to perfect phenolic ripeness, expertly managed tannin extraction and the true benefits of longer, stress-free hang times of the grapes. Despite the abundant finesse and accessibility, this wine possesses restrained power, classical tension, liquid minerality and a fabulously long, persistent finish that is reminiscent of Grand Cru Burgundy in the finest years. A deeply seductive Sassicaia shaped by its classicism, linearity and balance. How can you not enjoy a few bottles of this classy wine in its youth? Drink from 2022 to 2045+.
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 1/6 of the vineyards of the area.
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 murmurings of ‘another great vintage’ in 2019 possibly to rival 2016 being whispered by some producers last year, anticipation and excitement has been building steadily for the first Langhe Nebbiolo releases as these wines undoubtedly act as a harbinger of the future potential quality of Barbaresco and Barolo releases!
Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2019, 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 the delicious village Barbaresco DOCG or indeed one of the classy nine Cru Riservas. This young Nebbiolo is utterly seductive with intricate perfume that wafts out the glass in waves of wild strawberry, red cherry, violets and pink blossom and an underlying hint of garrigue, vermouth botanicals, blood orange and dry roasted nuts. Very classy and quite individual with exceptional quality year in, year out, the 2019 palate is sleek, silky and wonderfully fresh with a mouth watering acidity, youthful chalky tannins and a real melange of cranberry, red cherry, vermouth bitters and subtle liquorice nuances on the finish. Fabulously elegant and energetic, this vintage is ripe and characterful with impressive fruit concentration but also a supple, elegant texture. Another cracking vintage that should drink well over 6 to 8+ years.
Founded back in 1958 and now representing a group of 51 growers with a combined total of 100 ha of vineyards, Produttori del Barbaresco under the leadership of Aldo Vacca has gone from strength to strength. The 2017 vintage certainly has a tough act to follow with the Produttori co-op producing one of their finest modern era wines ever with their 2016 release. But there is a reason that Produttori del Barbaresco is rated as the best red wine Co-operative in the world. Wines like the 2015, 2016 and 2017 exemplify top quality village Barbaresco! When they need to really deliver, they exceed expectations time and time again.
Produttori del Barbaresco 2017 Barbaresco DOCG, 14.5% Abv.
The deliciously serious 2017 is the product of a warm, dry growing season that perhaps pushes the 2017 towards a darker, deeper more broody expression. The aromatics are dense and rich, layered with black cherry, tar, melted black liquorice, salty cassis, maritime sea breeze, asphalt and perfumed violets. Where the 2016 was bright and more red fruited, the 2017 is more rustic, dense, tannic and slightly chewy in a positively Piedmontese style. The palate shows a sinewy, muscled richness and ample crunchy black cherry and black berry with tart bright acids, rock salt, aniseed root and yet more black tarry liquorice nuances. Always fabulously balanced and texturally tightly focused, this is another very impressive follow up to the stellar 2016 with the main components of the blend coming from the Ovello, Montestefano, Muncagota, Pora and Rio Sordo vineyards. Drink now to 2035+
Poderi e Cantine Oddero was established in the late 18th century by the Oddero family, who have lived in La Morra since the first half of that century. In the 1890s, Giovanni Battista Oddero began vinifying grapes, which lead to the winery’s establishment. Later, his sons, Lorenzo and Luigi followed in his footsteps. It was the first Giacomo Oddero, who started selling wine in bottles. However, it was the second Giacomo Oddero, who renovated the ancient farm and began elevating the quality and prestige of the region’s wine. Today, his legacy lives on through his daughter, Mariacristina, and his grandchildren, Isabella and Pietro, who represent the seventh generation of vinicultural tradition.
Located in Santa Maria, La Morra, the raised vineyards are naturally terraced and overlook the Langhe hills. With a total of 35 hectares, they cultivate some of Piemonte’s most renowned wines through the use of traditional knowledge paired with modern production techniques. 16.5 hectares are cultivated to produce Nebbiolo for Barolo and Barbaresco. Several of those vineyards are codified “Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive”, meaning they are prized for Nebbiolo cultivation, under the new Production Regulations (Disciplinari di Produzione) for Barolo and Barbaresco.
Oddero Barolo 2016 DOCG, 14% Abv.
Another fabulous Barolo blend from the exceptional 2016 vintage made from fruit harvested from three sites, namely Bricco Chiesa and Capalot both in La Morra, and Fiasco in Castiglione Falletto. Like all great Barolo, there is a beautifully classical balance between cool, delicate red cherry fruits notes, dried herbs, potpourri, red liquorice, smoky graphite minerality and hints of fennel seeds and dried aniseed root. The palate is taut, linear and pure with a subtle weight of red and black cherry stone fruits, hints of bramble berry and sundried cranberries with a fabulously fine grained chalky tannin finish that boasts notes of red cherries, juniper and hints of blood orange citrus zest. A structured and finely delineated wine with wonderful balance and intensity married with classical restraint that offers excellent value for money. Plenty of youthful mineral grip at the moment but you can certainly drink this now after decanting or cellar comfortably for 3 to 5 years before tucking in.
Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and La Morra are three of the most important villages in the Barolo area and also three sites where Nebbiolo expresses itself to its maximum potential. The soils in Barolo close to the Cannubi Cru sub-region are compact and sandy lying on slopes overlooking the hill of La Morra. The vineyards dominated by Nebbiolo plantings are joined by this unusually sited one hectare Dolcetto single vineyard of Roussot which lies on a South Western facing exposure. The vines are properly old now having been planted between 1975 and 1977.
Vinification of the Dolcetto grapes was carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with skin contact fermentation for approximately 15 days. Further elevage or “refinement” was carried out by ageing the wine for several more months in stainless steel enhancing the characteristics of the grape variety and helping to accentuate Dolcetto’s natural freshness and fragrance. Many might have pulled up these quirky old Dolcetto vines to plant more Nebbiolo, but thankfully, the Rinaldi family continue to nurture this special vineyard and sell the small but high quality production at very reasonable prices. A true treasure of Piedmont.
Francesco Rinaldi et Figli Dolcetto d’Alba Roussot 2019, 13% Abv.
The 2019 Roussot Dolcetto is a real rarity being made in a traditional style from fruit grown on prime Nebbiolo soils, something seldom seen in Piedmont. The bouquet boasts wonderfully vinous notes of lilac, white flowers, crushed rose petals over complex nuances of blackberries, wild strawberries, forest berry notes with a subtle limestone and graphite dusty minerality. The palate is sleek, finely polished and impressively fleshy with hints of tart black plum, black currants and black cherry, finishing with a subtle note of melted salty black liquorice and roasted almonds. Delicate but confident in stature and structure, this superb Dolcetto has power and intensity but also fabulous drinkability and mouth-watering vivacity. An incredibly charming wine that will drink well now and over 3 to 5+ years.
July 2020 sees the new release of the famed Gaja Barbaresco 2017 vintage produced from 14 vineyards situated in the municipality of Barbaresco. The land, at a height between 250 and 330m above the sea level, covers a surface of 21.4 hectares and vines are between 40 and 45 years old on average.
After the abundance of rainfall at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, a suitable amount of water combined with the warm spring, led to an earlier than anticipated bud break, which occurred 15 days earlier than usual. By mid-April 2017, three days of frost had hit the Barbaresco area, leading to a strict selection in the vineyards which resulted in the loss of -10% of the overall production.
However, the sudden drop in temperatures led to a positive slow-down of the vegetative growth cycle, whereas the summer proved to be one of the warmest in the last 10 years. Overall, 2017 will be remembered for the healthiness of the grapes, due to the dry growing season and for the overall drop in the production which the Gaja estate estimated at up to -20% to -30% by the time of picking. The harvest began on September 13th with the Merlot, followed by the Barbera and ending with the late ripening Nebbiolo grapes on October 20th.
Gaja Barbaresco DOP 2017, 14.2 % Abv.
The 2017 Barbaresco is a vintage of low quantity but undoubtedly high quality. After the warm dry vintage, the final expression is one of concentration of fruit as well as acidity and tannins from grapes with a low juice to skin ratio. The nose is perfumed and inviting from the first pull of the cork, showing a complex bouquet of cherry blossom, rose petals, red liquorice, sour red and black cherries, sun raisined strawberries and a classical, cranberry and aniseed root spice. Powerful in the mouth yet notably fine grained in texture and classically mineral with sweet velvety tannins balancing the fruit concentration of red cherries, sour plums and hints of ripe blood orange. Despite the heat of the vintage, the wine retains impressive linearity and classical restraint more reminiscent of a vintage like 2015 while the fruit of the 2017s are purer, more elegant and harmonious and a little less plump, fleshy and rounded in comparison. A beautifully expressive wine showing fabulous freshness, precise and considerate extraction and a grand Nebbiolo intensity and persistence. Drink from release until the aromatics and palate start to tighten up and then over the next 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
(The Gaja wines are imported and distributed to the UK wine trade by Hatch Mansfield.)
Sicilian wines are now super trendy undoubtedly helped in no small part by the fabulous tourism industry on the island and the incredible gastronomic feasts tourists enjoy on their visits. Sicilian food is some of the very best! Wine too is part of the life blood of Sicily, just as it is on the mainland, but the wines of Etna are cut from a totally different cloth. They are not the usual ripe, plush sunshine offerings of Nero d’Avola but far more intricate, earthy, ethereal mineral expressions that have more in common with Burgundy than the Mediterranean.
So IDDA is an exciting new joint venture winery project between Angelo Gaja of Piedmontese fame and Alberto Graci. Together they own 20 hectares of vineyards in the villages of Belpasso and Biancavilla which are currently planted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. 2017 is the first vintage of the IDDA Etna Rosso red and a pretty smart effort it is as well.
Gaja Idda 2017 Etna Rosso, 14.5% Abv.
A lot of expectations are built around tasting this maiden release of Gaja’s Etna Rosso, the first from Angelo and Gaia Gaja’s new project on the island of Sicily. This is an archetypal Nerello Mascalese expression with fabulous savoury earthy berry aromatics, overt sous bois, hedge row spice, volcanic minerality and a high toned basaltic, stony dustiness that attempts to court the subtle fragrant herbal notes and dried potpourri sapidity lurking beneath. Unmistakably Sicilian … until one starts to imagine sleek Nebbiolo notes lurking in the glass. The texture is certainly classic Nerello Mascalese and teases the palate with the lighter, sleeker more supple notes similar to glass of Pinot Noir cut with a slug of Langhe Nebbiolo and its accompanying tannin rusticity. All in all, this is a very precise wine, expertly crafted and moulded with vibrantly fresh acids and a seamlessly polished accessibility. Never easy launching a maiden vintage of any wine, but this expression certainly shows the incredible potential for future, more finely honed releases. Drink and enjoy this wine now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.