Tasting the Contino “Hail Storm Cuvee” Rioja…

Contino is a real pioneer of single estate wines in Rioja and uses only its own fruit from its 62 hectares of vines. In a normal vintage Contino’s production is around 1,500 barricas (barrels), spanning a number of different wines. 2013, however, was not a normal vintage.


When a freak hail storm struck the estate in 2013, one week before the harvest was set to commence in September, golf ball sized hailstones reduced the crop by a staggering 90%. Winemaker Jesus Madrazo scoured his devastated vineyards and marked specific vines that had the odd bunch of undamaged, viable fruit. A miniscule amount of grapes were thus harvested in the following week, being sorted berry by berry at the winery. All the healthy fruit that Contino could salvage produced 17 barricas (barrels) of red wine.


Contino 17 Barricas 2013 Rioja Tinto, 14.5 Abv.

While only 17 barricas were produced, what eventually made it into the bottle is a beast of a wine. A classic Rioja blend of 80% Tempranillo, 13% Graciano and 7% Garnacha aged for nearly two years in French and American oak. The nose is rich and opulent with the most expressive intensity of bruleed black berries, damson plums, forest bramble berries and stewed strawberry compote. There is still a lick of dusty, vanillary oak, but the concentration of fruit is such that the oak melts away in the glass, eventually overpowered by back cherry, blue berry crumble and salty licorice complexity. The palate is broad and ripe, with real intensity of red and black fruits reaching out and touching every corner of ones mouth. Layers of black berry, caramelised plum and strawberry confit are supported by fresh juicy acids and sweet creamy tannins. There is a hint of alcohol warmth of the finish but this is quickly obscured by an abundance of generous cocoa, chocolate and sweet black fruit nuances. All the hallmark purity, intensity and modernity of the Contino style are to be found in this wine, which will undoubtedly find a welcoming home among the estate’s many followers. Drink now to 2028+

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


The Iconic Napa Valley Winery of Silver Oak ~ Tasting the New Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2012…

There are a handful of iconic wineries in California that proudly tip their caps to the classical regions of Bordeaux. In this group I include Dominus, Inglenook, Ridge, Diamond Creek and of course Silver Oak.


Founded by Raymond Twomey Duncan and Justin Meyer in 1972, this estate focuses unashamedly on Cabernet Sauvignon, using select fruit from mostly their own vineyards and ageing the wines in American oak barrels made in their own cooperage in Missouri. These are wines I love tasting, love cellaring and love drinking with some age.


In March 2017 I finally visited Silver Oak’s impressive Napa Valley winery allowing me to tick off a long standing wish on my winery bucket list! Yesterday, at the wonderful Golden State Tasting in London, I got another close look at the entire range and tasted the new releases with Export Director Vivian Gay, before enjoying a couple of older bottles with Vivian at dinner. 


If you love great Bordeaux from ripe years like 2009 or 2010, these are wines that you need to discover and put in your cellar!


Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, 14.4 Abv

From another “exceptional vintage” in California, this 2012 red is the product of a fine, moderate growing season featuring only one day above 37 degrees celsius from May through to the end of Sept. A classical blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, this is another block buster from Napa Valley. There are lifted aromatics of spicy plum, black cherry, black current leaf, sage and exotic nutmeg and sandlewood notes. The palate is well structured as you’d expect from the Napa Valley Cuvee, showing compact black berry fruit, vanilla pod spice, a sweet silky creamy texture and salty black cherry and cassis with a sprinkle of savoury hoisin sauce complexity. This is an imposing, dense, concentrated wine that demands your attention. The finish is classical, polished and long with cedar, vanilla, and sappy black current leaf on the finish … that goes on and on. Cellar this beauty for 8 to 10 years to acquire more tertiary complexity or enjoy now with a nice steak.

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

Here are a few of my favourite pictures taken during and after my trip to Napa Valley and Sonoma in March 2017.





Another Exciting Experimental Elgin Release from Carsten Migliarina…

There are a lot of great cool climate wines being produced in the Cape, many of them originating in Elgin. But unusually, this new release is not a Chardonnay, Semillon or a Sauvignon Blanc, but a superb cool, crunchy, mineral Riesling.


Seitensprung means an “affair” or “side step” and Carsten’s idea is to make one experimental wine from a different grape variety every year. This would allow Carsten full artistic experimental freedom and no accumulative pressure or expectations, with the wines only being bottled if quality meets his high standards.


This is a one-off Riesling, itself unusual in South Africa and lovers of the variety will hopefully see some of Carsten’s German heritage in this exciting new wine.

Migliarina Wines Riesling Seitensprung 2016, W.O. Elgin, 12 Abv.

Like all Carsten’s wines, this is another serious effort. So grown up and old worldly in style. Not sure how he pulls it off time and time again, but this is so taught and mineral-laden with gravel, wet river pebbles, wet chalk, dried herbs and dry summer stable straw. The palate is a mirror image of the nose, seamlessly balanced and vibrantly fresh showing crunchy green apple, dried straw spice, pithy green pear, and incredibly rasping dry lemon complemented by crystalline purity and framed by profound liquid minerality. This is a very classy Riesling unlike anything I’ve tasted recently in South Africa, built more in a structured German Nahe or Rhinegau Trocken style. Superb wine. Glückwunsch Carsten!

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

Getting In the Mood For the Real Wine Fair with Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc…

Craig Hawkins’ interpretation of Chenin Blanc can divide opinion. Well, I love his wines. He always seems to somehow capture extra nerve, wound spring tension and vibrant freshness. There’s much more to it than merely explaining it as a result of earlier picking having tasted a lot of early picked versions that are hard, tart, one dimensional and lacking in texture and flavour complexity. No such problems for Craig’s wines.


I’ve never made a white wine myself, only red, but having followed Craig’s evolution as a winemaker, you can really see the subtle tricks he’s learnt along the way while making some “funky” whites with up to 2 years skin contact. As he always told me… “I wasn’t looking for any particular result with all the experimentation with skin contact, I just wanted to see how far I could push things … and learn something in the process.”


Well, Craig has certainly reined things in a little over the past few years, a clear sign that he has matured into a high quality, thoughtful, considerate winemaker. But importantly, he has never compromised his flair or his wines characterful natural purity and textural style. With his 2015 El Bandito Cortez, Craig has hit his zenith with Chenin Blanc.


Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2015, 12.5 Abv.

This Chenin Blanc has a beautifully bright pale golden colour with aromas of baked crab apples, white bread drizzled with honey, incense, and tinned white peaches in syrup. Superbly expressive and complex. The palate is cool, taught and intense with Craig’s hallmark low pH feel and vibrant tension, but with perhaps a few extra layers thanks to the sublime 2015 vintage character. Plenty of racy freshness, white citrus, pithy river pebble minerality, waxy tangerine peel, fresh fennel and beautiful briney, salty sea breeze zest. This wine typifies low intervention winemaking at its very best. Decant before serving for best results. Drink from 2017 to 2030+.

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


Riesling Does Not Get Much Better Than This ~ Tasting the Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese 2016 with Cornelius Donnhoff…

One of Germany’s most beautiful river valleys and geologically speaking, the most varied and interesting. The small tranquil River Nahe joins the Rhine at Bingen and all along the valley walls, surrounding the little villages, vineyards adorn the countryside. The vineyards of the Nahe were first classified in 1901 and there are now 4,202 hectares of vines with a ratio of 75% white and 25% red, forming 2.3% of annual German wine production.


The Spring of 2016 started quite gently with pleasant temperatures and stable weather. However the rains arrived in May and continued to plague the vineyards, with the annual rainfall being equalled by late June already, and all at the critical flowering stage. Diligent canopy management was required until the rains finally stopped in July, ushering in a period of more tranquil conditions. The remainder of the summer was dry and bountiful, stretching all the way to the first day of picking on the 4th of October 2016.


Tasting with Cornelius Donnhoff today, he confirmed that they consider their 2016 Rieslings to be of outstanding quality and very comparable in quality with their block buster 2015 whites, across all styles.


Donnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshohle Riesling Spatlese 2016, Nahe, 8.5 Abv.

From one of the Nahe’s most incredible vineyards, the 2016 Hermannshohle reflects the rewards for great terroir and another wonderful vintage, showing concentration and fine, intense suave acids. The wine is still in nappies but is already showing the real class of a “Grand Cru” quality vineyard. The nose is vibrant and expressive, showing citrus bon bons, white peaches, citrus blossom, and waxy tangerine peel spice. There are pretty wet slate notes to complement the pristine, crystalline fruits. The palate is rich, luxurious, and long, with incredible drive and intensity and a concentration of green apple pastille, crunchy white peaches, talc, musk, citrus oil and grey slate minerality. Such opulence, refinement and balance. Class personified. Young Riesling Spatlese from the Nahe, or anywhere, does not get much better than this!

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



 

Celebrating the Life of a True Wine Trade Legend ~ Michael Broadbent MW’s 90th Birthday at Vintners’ Hall…

Everyone who works in the wine trade and who is passionate about wine counts themselves as being very lucky. We may not all earn bankers salaries but we often manage to drink better wines than your average London oligarch.

Michael along side his wine merchant son, Bartholomew Broadbent of Broadbent Selections based in the USA

Tonight was one of those nights that really reminded me of what a special era of fine wine I’m living through and working in. The Tim Atkins and Jamie Goodes of this world will still be around for many years to come. But some legends like Michael Broadbent MW won’t be. 

Jancis Robinson MW OBE giving a congratulatory speech and summary of Michael’s long career in wine.

Celebrating his 90th birthday yesterday at Vintners’ Hall (officially on the 2nd May), Michael is not only a fellow Master of Wine, who graduated in 1960, but also a legendary figure in my life and that of many others in the broader global fine wine trade. He falls into the absolute wine personality icon category along with the likes of Hugh Johnson, Steven Spurrier and Jancis Robinson, all people I have been honoured to work with and along side for the past two decades I’ve worked in the UK wine trade.


In a few years time, when some of these personalities are no longer with us, we will undoubtedly reflect on what a special moment in time the past years have been. These personalities coincided with and reigned over the democratisation and globalisation of the fine wine trade. The market will continue to evolve, times will change, but these figures and their influence will never be surpassed.

Jancis Robinson’s 3 page speech and CV Summary. Yes, his career is that long and impressive!

So when you pop that next cork, think about the person, who ever it may be, that inspired you to appreciate wine, and honour them with a cheeky toast. Cheers!

Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Semillon 2016 ~ Another Contender for One of My Top 10 South African Whites of the Year…

A few weeks ago, on a visit to see Peter Allan Finlayson at Gabrielskloof, I managed to also meet up with John Seccombe to taste his new vintages. John has been based at Gabrielskloof for a while now, leasing cellar space to produce his fantastic range of wines.


Last year, the Paperkite Semillon 2015 achieved one of my highest scores for a South African white and flew straight into my top 10, not an easy feat considering all the amazing 2015s that were on the market at the time. This year sees more of the same… and the 2016 version is another cracker!


Thorne & Daughters Paperkite Semillon 2016, 13.2 Abv.

A blend of 85 year old Semillon and 56 year old Semillon Gris from Siebrietskloof in the Paardeberg, the beauty has a rich opulent aromatic lift of lime peel, waxy lemons, white peach and tangerine peel. There are lovely dried herb nuances of thyme combined with sappy crushed leaves. The palate is creamy and intense, brimming with sweet pineapple pastille fruit concentration, tangy fig confit, granitic stoney minerality, finishing with a massively long finish that resonates around the back palate. Wow… A really profound, expressive fine wine. Chase it… buy it… drink it!

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