Tasting Bodegas Bianchi’s Lionel Messi L10 Wines…

Tombs have been written about celebrity wines and the variable quality of what’s inside the bottle. So I was delightfully pleased to taste – and enjoy – the Lionel Messi L10 Argentinian wines from Bodegas Bianchi. With a large percentage of the profits going to Messi’s charitable causes, it makes sense that he not only wanted the wines to be top quality but also perceived as good value for money. The better the reputation, the more he’ll sell and the more money he will raise for good causes.

Bodegas Bianchi, one of the largest and oldest family owned wineries in Argentina, have partnered with Lionel Messi to produce a sparkling wine, a fabulous Torrontes white and two impressive Malbec reds. The L10 Malbec ‘normale’ is a bright, pure fruited expression that is fermented in stainless steel, thus preserving the lifted aromatics and crunchy red and black fruits, making it a perfectly versatile mid-week red. But the Salta Torrontes and Malbec Premium were the wines that really stood out at a recent tasting with the winemaker.

Bodegas Bianchi L10 Torrontes 2021, Salta, Argentina, 13% Abv.

At close to 1,900 metres altitude, the Torrentes vineyards of Salta, north of Mendoza are considered some of the best for this varietal in the whole of Argentina, if not the world. With vines trained in a classic Spanish pergola system, the large raised canopies protect the delicate white grape skins from the high UV luminosity that you get at these high altitudes. The cooler vineyard micro-climates also make it possible to yield fabulously fresh, cool, crisp expressions of Torrontes with aromatics bathed in notes of crushed rose petals and jasmine perfume, white peach, pink musk, red apples and hints of green melon. This 2021 is tangy and fresh, boasting an impressively rich mid-palate concentration together with a dense, fleshy peach stone fruit depth topped off with intricate flavours of white citrus, yellow grapefruit, peach pastille and apple rock candy notes. Never oily or heavy, this is top level Torrontes that would be a heavenly food match with delicately aromatic Indian and Asian flavoured seafood and white meat dishes. Who knew high altitude Torrontes could be this exciting!? Wow!

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

L10 Premium Malbec 2020 is a three terroir blend with average yields of 9 tons per hectare. After 4 to 5 days cold maceration, the wines are fermented and aged in 15% new French oak barrels and 85% in stainless steel.

Bodegas Bianchi L10 Malbec Premium 2020, Mendoza, 13% Abv.

A pleasingly deep, rich, opulent expression of premium Malbec that reveals fabulously ripe, intense complex aromatics of black plum liquor, crushed mulberries, raisined black currant, sappy cedar wood spice and hints of graphite. The palate follows in a similar bold vein showing intense black berry fruits, creamy fine grained tannins, sweet black cherry spice, finishing with a stony, pithy, piquant mineral finish. Lovely depth, breadth and intensity. Drink now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.

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

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 10: Le Petit Leon de Cap Leon Veyrin 2019…

One of the most exciting Bordeaux finds over the past couple of years has been the wines of Julien Meyre who owns three Chateau in the Medoc. Of the three Chateau, his Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin is undoubtedly the flagship property boasting blends packed with dense, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon fruit supported by fleshy, opulent Merlot. Recent vintages have garnered impressive 90-plus point scores from Neal Martin at Vinous as well as from James Suckling.

But there is another more modest wine that has recently caught my attention and this is the Le Petit Leon that has been styled as a de-facto second wine of Chateau Cap Leon Veyrin even though some grapes are bought in for this wine. But the quality is outstanding and the presentation top drawer! Certainly one to look out for if you are on the hunt for quality at a great price. (Retail circa £15pb)

Tasting in London recently with Julien Meyre… followed by some obligatory oysters!

Le Petit Leon de Cap Leon Veyrin 2019, Bordeaux, 13.5% Abv.

This 50% Cabernet Sauvignon / 50% Merlot blend is a serious offering that shows intricate aromatics of damson plum, black currant, sweet cherry tobacco with underlying notes of sweet cedar oak, bramble berry and graphite spice. The palate strikes an excellent balance between silky black fruit depth, a creamy texture and broody red berry fruit power. Impressive balance and an all round generous personality with a vibrant fresh tangy persistence. A delicious wine from a block buster vintage. Drink on release and over 3 to 5+ years.

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

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)

Exploring Bordeaux Second Wines – Part 9: Le Petit Ducru de Ducru-Beaucailloux 2018…

This juicy little newcomer to the world of Bordeaux second wines is a selection derived from the Saint Julien vineyards of Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou. Le Petit Ducru portends an introduction to the Borie signature style, lending qualities from its elder siblings, the Ducru-Beaucaillou and the La Croix Ducru-Beaucaillou, of plushness, balance and Cabernet Sauvignon elegance and power.

The Petit Ducru sees an equally rigorous grape selection and attention to detail winemaking before being aged in barrel for 12 months with one-third new oak. A traditional Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blend, and depending on the vintage, occasionally with a hint of Petit Verdot, this is an appealing addition to the Bordeaux drinkers’ landscape. Le Petit Ducru aims to be a wine of balance and harmony that is enjoyable in its youth while also possessing enough “stuffing” for moderate beneficial ageing.

Le Petit Ducru de Ducru-Beaucailloux 2018, Saint Julien, Bordeaux, 14.5% Abv.

A new wine in the Ducru-Beaucaillou portfolio launched with the 2018 vintage, Le Petit Ducru wine was formerly called Lalande-Borie. This can loosely be considered the Chateau’s second wine as the La Croix du Beaucaillou, like examples such as Clos du Marquis and Les Forts de Latour, is not a second wine as such, because it comes from a specifically dedicated part of the Ducru-Beaucaillou vineyard located on the south bank of La Mouline. The Le Petit Ducru grapes are all sourced from vineyards of Ducru-Beaucaillou and the maiden 2018 vintage is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine possesses an impressively deep dark broody opaque colour and shows seductively opulent aromatics of stewed black berries, black currant compote, sweet mulberries, black liquorice, cherry tobacco, grilled herbs and subtle notes of graphite and freshly tilled earth. The palate is plush, bold and opulent with an imposing mouth-filling texture packed with sweet black berry fruits, hints of hoisin plum sauce, burnt brown toast crusts and vanilla pod spice. An impressively opulent and fleshy expression that is kept in check by fresh integrated acids and sweet, creamy tannins which finish with a spicy, dried baking herb piquant twist. Arguably a wine that shows its pedigree and over-delivers for the price. Drink on release and comfortably over the next 8 to 10+ years.

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

Iona’s Owner Andrew Gunn Presents His Winery’s New Releases in London…

My last opportunity to catch up with Iona winery’s owner Andrew Gunn was scuppered by his nasty fall off a ladder which lead to him having to cancel his trip to the UK in February 2020, just before the Covid-19 global lockdown. Roll on two years and finally Andrew returned to London to profile some of his impressive new releases.

With the focus of the Iona brand shifting to more premium site specific expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the past few years, the excitement seems to build incrementally ahead of each new release as the wines become more fine tuned to their individual terroirs on the farm. As always, it was lovely to catch up with Andrew again and hear all about the latest developments at his Iona winery.

Iona Sauvignon Blanc 2020, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

With a 7 percent portion of Semillon, the 2020 is wild fermented in second and third fill 500 litre barrels and offers aromatics of green apple, white pear, lemon grass and a hint of capsicum peppers. The wine is mellow and fine tuned, beautifully integrated and fresh with crystalline purity, bright acids and a complex, pithy, stony mineral finish. Drinking very well now with an overt, harmonious finesse.

(Wine Safari score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Iona Monopole Chardonnay 2020 Elgin Highlands, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

Wild yeasts and barrel fermented, this is a more classical expression showing great aromatic restraint with notes of struck flint, lime peel, waxy green apple skins and dried baking herbs. The palate is subtle and sleek, seamlessly textured and wonderfully elegant with beautifully integrated melon, peach and yellow citrus fruits melting into a smoky minerality and roasted nut depth. A very classy old world leaning Chardonnay.

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

Iona Monopole Kloof Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

The 2018 shows a rich core of fruit with leesy, biscuity notes over honey stroopwaffles, white blossom, gun flint and subtle butterscotch nuances. The palate is bold and full, confidently structured, exhibiting plenty of acid frame, textural fruit depth, savoury lemon and herb fruit notes, finishing with a lemon and lime brightness kissed with vanilla pod oak spice.

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

Iona Monopole Fynbos Chardonnay 2018, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.

Grown on post glacial alluvial soils, this Fynbos shows fabulously intense, crystalline, lemon and lime cordial notes, with hints of lemon peel, river stones and savoury umami hints. The oak is restrained and subtle, integrated beautifully with a sleek glycerol palate with textured layers of lime peel, sweet citrus pastille fruits and subtle roasted notes. A very classy expression.

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

Iona Monopole Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 13% Abv.

Rich expressive aromatics rise out the glass with bold notes of stewed strawberries, winter black berry compote, savoury plums with a meaty, earthy edge. The palate is attractively rich, textured and dark fruited with an equal measure of earthy savoury spice and mixed red and black berry creamy elegance. Impressively complex, well balance and basically a wine crying out for a seductive food and wine matching.

(Wine Safari score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Iona Monopole Kloof Pinot Noir 2018, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.

An intriguing wine showing beautiful complexity with intricate notes of sloe berries, sun dried red cherries, wet grey slate and ripe pomegranate. The palate is spicy, sleek and linear, perhaps holding a bit back, but is already rich and bright with glassy cool, tight acids, a direct, taut texture and a long blue and black berry fruited finish with pithy, stony mineral tannins. Lovely balance and wonderfully attractive now but certainly good for a few more years in the cellar.

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

Iona Solace 2018 Syrah, WO Elgin, 13.5% Abv.

A rich dark broody affair, this is a big bold wine with expressive aromatics of logan berries, crushed raspberries, black berry kirsch liquor, sweet baked herbs and a savoury, sweet sour intensity. Rich and ripe yet showing plentiful elegance and restraint with classical proportions, this has lovely layers of cherry cola, cranberry coulee, sweet tangy acids and a long savoury, meaty finish. An imposing wine with power and presence but also a fine sense of elegance and restaint.

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

Klein Constantia Continues to Push the Quality Boundaries with their Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2021…

The assessment of any great winery is surely measured by how well they make their largest and most commercially available estate wine. In the case of Klein Constantia, it has been thrilling to see winemaker Matt Day pushing the boundaries of quality and complexity on the estate’s main white release. Not content to merely make something that is commercially appealing, the team at Klein Constantia have over the past few years doubled their efforts to reclaim premium Sauvignon Blanc as Constantia’s number one global calling card.

While the experimentation and single vineyard expressions are fun to taste and write about, it is most pleasing to see that everything they learn making these micro cuvées gets translated back into plain English when applied to improve the balance, texture and complexity of their estate Sauvignon Blanc, just like the Mercedes formula 1 team uses innovations learnt on the track to improve and enhance their commercial mass market models. With intent and focus behind a wine brand like this, how can you not want to fill your cellar with their offerings!

Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2021, Constantia’s Valley, 13.5% Abv.

This 2021 made from over 40 separate parcels employing up to 25% skin contact, is a tantalising expression of pristine cool climate Sauvignon Blanc that combines the most intricate aromatic elements of white lemon blossom, grated lime peel, yellow grapefruit, freshly cut hedgerow and crunchy white peach. There is certainly a nervy saline green fruit crunch to the wine with the palate effortlessly weaving a dusty stony minerality seamlessly together with notes of spicy gooseberry, lemon grass, lime cordial, green apple and lashings of more white citrus and tangerine. This is a very distinguished expression that can be appreciated by serious Loire connoisseurs as well as weekend drinkers looking for a classy fresh glass of premium Sauvignon Blanc to compliment sushi and fresh seafood. This is Constantia Sauvignon Blanc at its versatile best.

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

Margaux Excels Once Again – Tasting the New Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2015 Release…

The third wine of the legendary Chateau Margaux, the Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2015 arrives on the market with great expectations for a wine from a highly lauded, ripe, warm Bordeaux vintage. The Margaux du Château Margaux 2015 is the result of the most rigorous selection ever made on their 3rd wine with almost a quarter of the production relegated to a 4th wine sold in bulk. Because of this selection, Chateau Margaux probably have today the most charming and open Margaux du Château Margaux that they have ever produced.

The 2015 winter, which was appreciably colder than those of the previous years, caused a late, but perfectly regular blossoming. Dry and sunny weather in the spring made for optimal conditions, so flowering took place very quickly and homogeneously. The hot, dry weather persisted throughout the months of June and July, to a point where Margaux was afraid there could be water stress, or at least in the most sensitive plots. Fortunately a little rain in August arrived just in time to ensure a quick and regular veraison. The drought, which arrived again in September, together with very warm days and cool nights, enabled the grapes to balance their richness in sugar with good acidity, to render their tannins more silky and to make their aromatic potential more complex.

The harvest of the reds took place from September 18th to October 6th. The small size of the grapes and their thicker skins indicated a very high concentration of tannins and the 2015 weather conditions are in fact the feature of very great vintages, like 2005, 2009 and 2010.

Margaux du Chateau Margaux 2015, AOC Margaux, 14% Abv.

The 2015 Margaux du Chateau Margaux red is a splendid garnet-purple coloured creation with an incredibly inviting aromatics bursting with seductive notes of black berries, crème de cassis, pressed rose petals, lavender, sappy sandalwood and hints of sweet Cohiba cigar tobacco spice. This vintage has got to be the ripest and most opulent expression of this Margaux Bordeaux since the maiden 2009 release, showing a medium to full–bodied flavour packed mouthful, delivering a lush black berry seduction, hints of black forest gateau and a tight knit vein of finely polished spicy tannins which melt away into a fresh, inviting acidity that somewhat reins in the warm 2015 fruit exuberance. But this wine is certainly not lacking in backbone or classicism, revealing plenty of mid-palate concentration and focused precision as you would expect from one of the greatest Chateau in Bordeaux. Drink now on release and over 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 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)

Alheit Family Wines Hereafter Here 2020 – Tasting the Impressive New Chenin Blanc…

Never one to rest on his laurels, Chris Alheit is probably one of the hardest working winemakers in South Africa and, rightly so, one of the most successful too. After recovering from his mid-life crisis speed wobble a few years ago when he threatened to terminate the Cartology project, Chris has knuckled down to refocus on not only the quality of his sought-after single vineyard wines but has also continued to increase the quality of his mega-brand Cartology.

So with everything on his plate, Chris of course decided to create yet another SKU in his portfolio, this time a young bush vine Chenin Blanc at a slightly more accessible price point. Certainly not another Flotsam & Jetsam revival brand… the grapes for this new edition come from two young blocks in Stellenbosch, 70% from Polkadraai Hills and 30% from the Upper Blaauwklippen Valley. The juice was spontaneously fermented and matured in used oak barrels before bottling.

Alheit Family Wines Hereafter Here Chenin Blanc 2020, WO Western Cape, 13.5% Abv.

This is definitely an exciting Chenin Blanc and initially on opening showed some of the opulent, fruity, fleshy exuberance that I remember tasting on the very first Cartology 2011. The aromatics are loaded with ripe pear, quince, peach, apple purée and hints of melted honey on warm white toast with sweet dried herb nuances. The palate is tangy and bright with a fleshy mouthfeel, a creamy rich texture that shows an impressively savoury yellow orchard fruit concentration with deliciously fresh acids that lend structure and balance. This is an impressive debut for this new young vine cuvee from Chris Alheit. Drink now to enjoy its youthful opulence and over the next 3 to 6+ years. (9,036 bottles produced)

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

The Vilafonte Winery Prepares to Release Another Effusively Modern 2019 Series M Vintage…

2019 represents the first post-drought Series M vintage to be released by the team at the Vilafonte winery in Paarl and the vintage clearly illustrates what is possible when nature decides to co-operate to yield some exceptional raw materials. According to winemaker Chris de Vries, the vintage was really a tale of two seasons. While rains initially remained elusive, there was an upswing in rainfall towards the end of the 2018 winter and continuing into spring and early summer.

Weather fluctuations in the spring did however result in uneven bud-break and berry set. Conditions improved somewhat at the onset of summer with a warmer November being very conducive to healthy vineyard growth. Some uneven ripening was remedied with in-bunch sorting after veraison and by the time harvest arrived at the beginning of February, the fruit quality was looking exceptional.

The Series M 2019 is a blend of 48% Malbec, 34% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc which was aged for 22 months in 22 percent new French oak barriques with the balance in a mixture of older French oak barrels. 51 barrels were produced.

Vilafonte Series M 2019, WO Paarl, 14% Abv.

This excellent vintage has yielded a truly impressive wine for the Vilafonte team displaying a brilliant and intense ruby and red plum hue. The aromatics are expansive and hedonistic sending notes of violets and crushed red cherries, raspberries and pressed rose petals soaring out the glass with confidence and vigour. Fabulously complex and intricate, attractive notes of wild berries and red currant follow to the dense, full bodied palate that boasts a broad seductive array of black liquorice and black plum, cocoa powder and brown toast crust nuances. The Malbec and Merlot are like a marriage made in heaven, offering svelte supple tannins and a texture that wraps its arms around you in the most comforting embrace. With time in the glass, the full fleshy palate shows further layers of baked plums, blue berries and red cherries all underpinned by fresh vital acids. This is most definitely one of the most powerful, potent and heady wines produced in the Series M range to date displaying an impressively ample fine wine self-confident personality. Drink this wine in its youth or cellar for 20+ years.

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