A Fitting Send Off For Paul Symington – Tasting a Fabulous Array of Old Vintage Ports and Old Tawny Ports to Mark His Retirement…

The Symington Family Estates is one of the most famous wine and Port houses in the whole of Portugal, which has owned and operated several vineyards and wineries since the 19th century. This family run business, now run by the 4th and 5th generations, owns several prestigious brands of Port, Madeira wine and Douro DOC wines, including some of the oldest and most well-known Port and Madeira offerings.

Today there are 10 family members working across the business, none more committed and married to the business than Paul Symington. A hugely influential and charismatic figure in the Port wine trade for many decades, Paul has finally called time as one of the figureheads of the Symington group and will be succeeded by his cousin, Johnny Symington, who will become chairman while Rupert Symington, previously joint managing director with Paul, will become CEO.

Over the past 20 years that I have worked in the London fine wine trade, it has always been Paul with his cool, calm, measured approach that has been the banner man and figurehead of the Symington Family Estates’ portfolio. So to mark this obviously sad but momentous decision, Paul, along with his long time importer in the UK, John E Fells, decided to go out in style with one of the most incredible Port tastings at the Armoury at the Tower of London.

With the veritable who’s who of the wine trade in attendance, we were treated to a tasting of some of the estate’s greatest wines over the past 100 years. The company is of course in safe hands but Paul will be missed by myself and many in the UK wine trade. Bon voyage et bon chance!

 

Graham 1994 Vintage Port

With 22 years in bottle, this is considered one of the best 3 or 4 post war vintage Ports according to the Symingtons. A classical beauty that is starting to reach a semblance of maturity showing an attractive bouquet of earthy beetroot, milk chocolate, aniseed root, dusty crushed granite, spicy black berry and sweet tobacco. Palate is dense and cool, creamy and sensual with an underlying backbone concealing incredible depth and power, fresh acids and wonderful harmony and balance. Utterly stunning but decades of life ahead of this wine.

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

 

Graham 1963 Vintage Port

An iconic vintage, this was marked as the first vintage in many years that actually made the family some decent money. At over 50 years old, there is a complexity of burnt brown sugar, polished oak, botanical herbs, oranges soaked in cognac and exotic wood spices. The palate shows creamy sweetness, caramelised depth, orange peel, bergamot, cinnamon spice and a spicy salted caramel finish. Mature but certainly delicious.

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

 

Dow 20 Year Old Tawny Port

A very different wine to the Graham 20 year old, this tawny shows an exotic spicy lifted nose with dusty minerality, dried orange peel, aniseed root, caramelised figs and cherries in cognac. Incredible tension and core power, fantastic textural precision and balance with an overall drier finish with complex notes of burnt sugar, spicy almonds, pistachio and salted liquorice. Tannins are beautifully elegant and lend a fine gravitas to the long, dry, mineral finish with the most subtle kiss of sweet tobacco and red bramble berry. A finely matured, mellow tawny that is very distinguished.

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

 

Graham 1982 Single Harvest Tawny Port

A wine released to commemorate the marriage of HRH Prince Harry to Meghan Markle in 2018. Aged in oak for over 3 decades at Graham’s 1890 Port lodge. 6 Pipes were selected for this exclusive bottling. The nose is very restrained and subtle, with interesting lactic notes of polished oak, butterscotch, pithy red cherry and dusty gravelly minerality. A striking wine that whispers its class, glides across the palate and lingers persistently in the mouth with notes of spiced oranges, cognac spice and vanilla pod. Liquid silk, this wine is as regal the the occasion is was bottled for. Beautiful.

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

 

Dow 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Plenty of patience required in creating this expression but it rewards with massive depth and power. The bouquet has almost more in common with Madeira than Tawny Port with a sweet / sour nose of red and black berries, sour plum, brine and a pronounced salty maritime sea breeze complexity. On the palate you see the concentration and power, depth and complexity of burnished oak, polished mahogany, burnt oranges, dried orchard fruits, praline and a sleek tea leaf finish. Beautiful and round, textured and showy, this has the opulence and presence to silence the noisiest room of wine merchants and wine critics.

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

 

Graham 1972 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Only a few barrels were selected in 1972 by Peter Symington for ageing in seasoned oak casks at the Vila Nova de Gaia lodge. Quite exotic with mature notes of wood spice, chocolate caramel wafers, almonds and dried orange peel. Not the most complex aromatic profile but certainly shows incredible fleshy opulence, creamy vibrant freshness, silky soft tannins with all components of this wine in a very happy harmony. One of those wines that confirms that sometimes less is definitely more. Low volume but incredibly melodious.

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

 

Cockburn 1969 Single Harvest Tawny Port

A sample drawn straight from cask that is currently ageing at the Cockburn lodge in Gaia and is not currently available on the market. This is also the birth year of head winemaker Charles Symington so holds a special position in the sentiments of the family. The bouquet is brimming with sweet wood spice, polished mahogany, oranges macerated in cognac and a subtle nutty almond peel intensity. Full and opulent, this shows a deliciously fresh and vibrant palate that is thoroughly tantalising and alluring with salted caramel, cognac and vanilla spice, dried orange peel and salty, briney fresh acids. Fleshy and harmonious, this is a very impressive fine wine expression that the market will eagerly watch and wait for!!

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

 

Graham 1963 Single Harvest Tawny Port

This vintage produced some of the finest Tawny Ports of the 20th century. Aged for over 50 years this wine shows incredible subtlety and finesse, delicacy and elegance with notes of dried orange peel, barley sugar, dried maraschino cherries, nutty almond powder and deliciously intriguing wood spice complexity. Beautifully fresh and vibrant, this wine reveals the most regal of tannin structures, a bright crystalline purity, weightless concentration and a delicious tangerine and salted toffee finish. This is incredibly fine, thoroughly distinguished and a definite show stopper. Wow!

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

 

Graham 90 Year Old Tawny Port

Specially bottled to commemorate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this very fine old Tawny is an extraordinary blend of 1912, 1924 and 1935 and is one of the rarest wines in the Symington range. Each vintage seems to build on the shoulders of the next rising to an ever higher level of complexity. The blending was done to incorporate the colour and acid intensity of the 1935, the rich hedonistic honied opulence of the 1924 and the extraordinary complexity and intensity of the concentrated 1912. A dark tawny opaque brown colour, the bouquet is fiery and a touch spirity but also loaded with ample notes of salted caramel, butterscotch and nutty cognac wood spice. The palate is regal and fleshy with the most delicious concentration enlivened by bristling acids, creamy burnt sugar sweetness and finishes with the most complex dried fruit and coffee caramel finish. Beautiful power, towering elegance and nearly unrivalled hedonistic showmanship. Utterly spellbinding.

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

 

Postscriptum: This was a truly amazing tasting of some of the greatest ports ever produced. So if any readers looking at my high scores are thinking I have succumb to a bout of score inflation, think again. This really was one of the most accomplished and remarkable line ups of mature Port that I have ever had the privilege of tasting altogether.

The Dawn of a New Vintage – Tasting the Component Parts of the 2017 Vintage Port With Dirk Niepoort…

After selective Port house vintage declarations in 2015 including Niepoort and Quinta do Noval, Niepoort then decided not to declare a 2016 Vintage Port when most others did, as the quality of the provisional 2017 vintage component parts were considered some of the highest quality wines Dirk had ever seen, showing similarities in style to his excellent 2015 and possibly even surpassing 2015’s exceptional final quality. 

It seems to me, after tasting almost all the 2015 single Quinta Vintage Ports as well as all the 2016 Vintage Ports, that some houses got themselves into a bit of a muddle. In the end, the 2015s appear to have turned out better than most expected and then of course the pressure was automatically on to declare the ripe 2016s. The problem remained that most producers had by then already realised that 2017 was going to be a small but exceptional vintage, creating the unusual dilemma of whether or not to break the unspoken Oporto rule of never declaring two consecutive vintages in a row.

Today, in early April, the declarations for 2017 Vintage Port started and later this week, I will taste the final completed bottled expression of the Niepoort Vintage 2017 Port with Dirk Niepoort. According to Dirk, 2017 was a great year in all aspects, with the harvest promising perfection and the weather during the harvest helping to achieve this. Up until this point, 2015 was considered the best Vintage Port he’d made. 2017 follows in the same vein as the 2015, but with a touch more perfection according to Dirk … 

“It is possibly our finest Vintage Port since 1945. This is a Port that is concentrated and intense with beauty and perfection shining through. Perfect tannins with a fruit component that is austere, precise and alive. The spirit is perfectly integrated, and the resulting finish is long, seductive and persistent. All its components are wonderfully balanced, a veritable orchestra in harmony. A fatal attraction with an insane potential for ageing, yet unbelievably perfect in its youth. This 2017 Vintage Port is unquestionably a King of Ports.”

The 2017 Vintage

2017 will be remembered for the intense heat and record low levels of rainfall. In-spite of the dry weather, flowering and bud burst developed under good conditions and in August and September the high temperatures during the day and cold nights allowed an even and gradual ripening. The decision to start harvesting early, at the perfect moment of ripeness, allowed grapes to be received in ideal conditions with fantastic natural acidity. Harvest at the Vale de Mendiz winery, began on 24th of August under perfect weather conditions, with musts displaying an intense colour and a powerful character. The last grapes were harvested on 26th of September. The yields were approximately 30% down on a normal year essentially due to dehydration.

I look forward to seeing Dirk Niepoort again soon when he launches his newest creation. But as the perfect entrée, I have typed up my tasting notes from the fascinating masterclass he presented in London in May 2018, where he presented eight individual 2017 Vintage Port blend components taken from barrel, alongside a his final “indicative blend”. 

A Snapshot of the 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port In Component Parts: 1 to 8

Component parts 1 all came from very old vines, the majority over 100 years old, with component parts 2 also coming from very old vines from between 80 and 100 years old. Both wines deliver incredible intensity and concentration adding real gravitas and length to the blend. Blend component 3 showed fine harmony and balance while component 4 came from the Pisca vineyard and was fortified with organic spirit. As is often the case with the Pisca wines, there was a youthful aroma of bananas before melting away into sweet black berry fruits. Ripe and very concentrated, “it tastes like where it comes from so you need to use it in moderation” according to Dirk. This cuvee also showed a very fine tannin structure indeed. Component 5 was a little more vinous in weight, lighter and shorter as a wine acting to help lift the concentration of all the other component parts coming from 100% Souzao fruit. A superb blending component at 2-3% normally. Component 6 was cooler and earlier picked from the Charmes vineyard, with some of the juice going into the Niepoort Charmes unfortified red wine with the remainder being worked harder and going into the Port blend. Component 7 was rich, opulent, grippy and gravelly with savoury tannins that added a whole extra dimension to the wine. Component 8 was from a small parcel made by a small grower producing fruit and wines in a very individual style, allowing 10% to make the final preliminary blend. 

Preliminary Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 Indicative Blend – (Barrel sample taken in May 2018)

Dense, long and profound with great precision, tannins and fruit power that you can savour and chew with an incredibly long finish. So many aromatic layers of graphite, sweet black berry, mulberry and nuances of blueberry preserve. Suave and elegant yet utterly imposing, powerful and masculine, very well honed and chiselled. Creamy, powerful, with powdery mineral grippy tannins, showing such fresh vibrant acid perfection, textural seamlessness and sublime harmony. Pronounced classical bramble berry fruit profile loaded with hedgerow spice, incredible intensity and precision and a very long, block-buster finish that goes on and on and on! Classy benchmark Port, this really is an inspired creation. 

(Wine Safari Score: 97-99+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Soalheiro Granit Alvarinho – One of The Best Mineral Whites I’ve Ever Experienced…

This could possibly be one of the most incredibly delicious mineral driven whites I have ever drunk. Created from vineyards planted above 250 metres altitude, this wine reveals a minerality and tension not seen on many wines anywhere in the world. Coming from vines grown on granitic soils from the Moncao e Melgaco terroir, the wine was further enriched with bâtonnage on the fine lees to create a profound Alvarinho mineral white expression.

Soalheiro Granit Mineral Selection 2017, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 13 Abv.

A most incredibly lifted, fragrant, mineral nose bursting with a wild array of peach blossom, tangerine peel, honeydew melon, Granny Smith apples and crunchy white peach pastille. A seductive, complex, opulent nose that combines wonderfully expressive fragrant, crystalline fruits with intense stony, dusty granitic minerality. The palate is texturally finely embroidered featuring incredible crystalline purity, impressive clarity and noteworthy attention to detail. But underlying it all is a profound sense of liquid minerality and textured precision. A small production wine so track it down if you can.

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

(UK Agent: Raymond Reynolds)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Photographic Record of My Year in Wine – 2017 – Part Three: July to September

After a very busy year, the Summer always seems a good time to catch ones breath and rest ones palate. Well, that is very much wishful thinking. July kicked off with a bang and the calendar was as fully packed as at any other time of the year. There seems to be no off switch anymore. All the more reason to make sure you enjoy your job, whatever it is that you do.

Part 3: July to September 2017

In July I arranged to join Neal Martin on a fun trip down to Wales to visit Ancre Hill Estates the fabulous high quality organic and biodynamic winery producing some of the best bubbles in the United Kingdom. Neal had received such a good response from his first English wine review in the Wine Advocate that it seemed a jolly good idea to go and visit!

A great picture of David Morris, son of owner and wine maker at Ancre Hill. I was thrilled when “Star & Furrow Magazine – The Journal of the Biodynamic Association” asked to use this picture for their January 2018 Edition profiling this talented young winemaker.

Always fun to catch up with Mike Ratcliffe in London, this time for a pre-release tasting of the Vilafonte Series C 2015 which rightfully made it on to my Top 10 most memorable reds from South Africa in 2017.

Thelema wines remain some of South Africa’s most iconic and it is wonderful to see Thomas Webb doing such a great job promoting them in the UK.

Summer time properly kicked off with another BBQ summer party gathering of the TW Wine Club… open to members of the wine trade (and VIP guests by invitation) who live in the Twickenham TW post code. Anne Burchett volunteered her lovely garden again and the weather obliged. Great to catch up with the whole gang including Jamie Goode, Oddbins MD Ayo Akintola, Telegraph journalist Victoria Moore and many others.

August heralded my first trip back to Tenerife since the mid 1980’s to catch a bit of sunshine and visit some of the wonderful wineries on the island, documented in my Fine Wine Safari series titled “The Tenerife Wine Odyssey”.  Great to visit one of the best, Suertes del Marques near La Orotava and be hosted by owner Jonatan Garcia Lima. Some amazing wines made on the island as confirmed by the high scores of Wine Advocate writer Luis Gutierrez’s recent Spanish Report covering the new releases from Suertes del Marques and Envinate, the islands two best producers.

Another great summer bash, this time generously hosted by David Clawson, owner of the Remedy Wine Bar. Plenty of fine wine enjoyed late into the night.

Never a dull moment when Ian Naude is around. He hosted numerous Masterclasses for us and really opened the eyes of a lot of consumers on the quality of old vine Chenin Blanc and Cinsaut coming out of South Africa.

One of the most highly anticipated Champagne tastings of the year was held in the late summer with the unveiling of the new release Krug 2004 vintage. Amazing wines tasted with Olivier Krug.

Plenty of fine wine drunk with Gary Jordan and Ian Naude on the occasion of their UK importer ABS’s new release portfolio tasting. A few cleansing ales wrapping up a fun day.

It’s not often a tasting of a Chilean producer includes a 100 point wine. Errazuriz’s Vina Chadwick cracked a 100 points last year and this year it was the turn of their Sena Bordeaux blend. Winemaker Francisco Baettig hosted us at 67 Pall Mall to sample the 2015 vintage new release as well as a vertical of several older vintage of both Sena and Vina Chadwick. Such distinguished wines.

With Wines of South Africa’s Intrepid Tasting just around the corner, it was time for the Saffers to decent upon London once again. Lovely to catch up again with Martin Meinert and Gottfried Mocke from Boekenhoutskloof.

The Intrepid Tasting was a great success despite the slight scheduling disconnect with The New Wave South Africa Tasting happening one month later. All the top journalists were there in force and the Tim Atkin MW 95+ Point table was a great draw card. Always fun to taste with Joe Wadsack, Neal Martin, Jo Wehring, Victoria Moore, Rosie Davenport etc.

In the gap between the Intrepid Tasting and the South African New Wave Tasting, there were a few moments to concentrate on “other” wines from around the world. Mark Savage MW, who has been importing Tertre Roteboeuf from St Emilion since the late 1970s, was on hand to present a fascinating vertical of wines from the current release all the way back to the late 1980s. A truly rare and fascinating occasion.

Another incredible vertical, written up on the Fine Wine Safari, was Luis Pato’s amazing Bairrada Baga vertical featuring some very rare single vineyard wines back to the mid 1980s.

The late summer was commandeered by Wines of California again starting with an amazing tasting tour of Sonoma wineries around London’s top steak houses organised by The Buyer’s Richard Siddle (above) and Peter Dean. A really innovative event and also very successful as well as enjoyable. Below, with my wing man for the day, Roger Jones.

Part of the entourage for the Sonoma Vintners Tasting was Joe Fattorini, presenter of The Wine Show, which is due to screen its second season soon.

The excellent Wines of California Tasting in Westminster allowed for a little reunion of our group that visited California in March. Above picture, myself with organiser Justin Knock MW and merchant Noel Young from Cambridge. Below, Noel Young, Amelia Singer and Peter Ranscombe.

Always lovely to have big Schalk Burger Senior visit when he is over in London, on this occasion for the Dunhill Invitational Pro/Am Golf Tournament at St Andrews … as well as several obligatory wine merchant visits with new Welbedacht vintages.

To end the third instalment of my year in wine through photographs, here’s a corker of our ex-manager Mick O’Connell MW over from Dublin to give us a preview of his super second vintage of Garnacha not Guerra 2016, which he produces in small quantities (1000 bottles) with his wife in Sardinia. 🍷

Quinta do Vale Meao – Stealing the Barca Velha Crown As the Most Sought After Premium Producer in the Douro…

You know a producer is an iconic winery when they have pulling power. Ok, so what exactly is “pulling power” you might ask? Well, quite simply, pulling power is getting a call on a Thursday afternoon asking if you would like to host Xito Olazabal, the winemaker from Quinta do Vale Meao, at short notice for a small impromptu private client tasting in the cellar the following Monday… then sending out one short email… and filling an entire cellar with 20 blue chip clients. Now that’s what you call pulling power!

Of course I realised Xito was passing through town for the New Douro Tasting and I just thought it would be a crying shame to give a knee jerk trade reaction and say sorry, can’t do an event at such short notice in November, one of the busiest times of year for punters and trade alike. But the speed at which customers replied to the tasting invitation even surprised me.

Enjoying Eben Sadie’s Treinspoor Old Vine Series Tinta Barocca 2015 with Xito at dinner after the tasting.

On the Monday, Xito presented a superb masterclass showing 4 vintages of white and red Meandro do Vale Meao as well as a tantalising mini Quinta do Vale Meao first wine vertical featuring 2000, 2007, 2012 and the pre-release 2015, followed by their single vineyard Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional expressions. But it’s the amazing benchmark 2015 Quinta do Vale Meao I want to highlight here and that’s due to arrive in the UK shortly.

Quinta do Vale Meao 2015, Douro Tinto, 14 Abv.

This imposing wine shows impressive mineral aromatics mixing with perfumed cassis leaf, mulberry, blue berry and fragrant black cherry. There are hints of creamy blue berry muffin opulence together with very impressive fruit purity. The palate is fresh, cool and focused with impressive textural polish. The tannins are very sleek and graphitey, balancing a saline liquorice complexity that finishes with great intensity, yet pure harmony. Perhaps an element of slightly earlier picking, this wine is vibrant and intense, showing off the very best the Douro has to offer with its still wines. Not a wine you want to miss out on. Drink this comfortably from 2018 to 2035+

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

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.