Old Vine Bordeaux at Its Very Best – Tasting the Ancient Vine Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010…

Château “Valados” first appeared in “Le Producteur” in 1841, and was included in the first edition of “Cocks and Feret” (Bordeaux and its Wines) in 1850 under the name of “Baladoz”. From 1874 to 1922, the estate was known as Château Baladoz until a tower was erected and adopted into the name. In certain parts, vines are grown at an altitude of up to ninety metres, almost the highest in the appellation, with more vines planted on the clay and limestone plateau that dominates the estate. Originally categorised as between the first and second crus of St Emilion, the estate later settled in the Grand Cru category.

The property, located in Saint-Laurent-des-Combes, was purchased by Belgian wine trader Emile De Schepper in May 1950 and included 5.56 hectares of vines. The new owner spent his first year renovating the cellars and making improvements to the vineyard. In the early years, the wine was exclusively exported to Belgium, in barrel, where it was bottled in the owner’s cellars in Ghent. The current cellar master and manager is the ultra talented Jean-Michel Garcion, who was appointed in 1992 and now also overseas production at sister estates Chateau La Croizille next door and Chateau Haut Breton Larigaudiere in Margaux.

70% of the Tour Baladoz vineyard is planted on the plateau, with the remaining 30 % situated on the slopes of the valley over deeply submerged rocks. Here, the challenge lies in making a wine that is as mineral as the geological environment in which the vines grow. The soil base varies from pure chalk and marl, which reminiscent of certain terroirs in the Champagne region, to freestone that appears occasionally and is noticed because of the colour variation in the clay. Here, the Merlot grape thrives and comprises 70% of the vineyard planting with Cabernet Franc (20%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%) making up the remainder.

While one of the great wines of the neighbourhood is certainly the Chateau Tour Baladoz, they also produce miniscule amounts (1,000 bottles) of a special cuvee called Le Centenaire St. Emilion Grand Cru from vines over 100 years old on average. But the great rarity is the cepage with this incredible wine being made up of a blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 3% Saint Macaire and 2% Bouchales, the later two varieties being incredibly rare ancient Bordeaux varieties. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 24 months in 100% new French oak barriques.

Chateau Tour Baladoz Cuvee Le Centenaire 2010, St Emilion Grand Cru

A wine of such rarity and corresponding cost (circa £325 per bottle) always commands respect before the cork is even drawn. Coming from probably the greatest modern red wine vintage in Bordeaux’s history, certainly since 1982 though many argue since 1959 and 1961, this wine automatically had a lot of expectation thrust upon it. Already 8 years old, it has a bright ruby garnet rim and a slightly opaque earthy red black plum coloured core. Tasted from Bordeaux Riedel glasses, the nose was initially reticent as many youthful 2010 reds still are, but in true right bank style, was quicker to reveal its charms than perhaps some left bank Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blends. The aromatics are very precise showing beautiful cherry blossom, parma violets, red cherry sherbet and subtle exotic earthy notes of mechanic’s diesel rag. Super complex, noticeably different but thoroughly spell binding. The palate is cool, ultra sleek and beautifully polished but like the nose, has an exotic twist of Caribbean red berry fruits, red cherry, purple rock candy, tart cassis and a Fanta grape twist. Texturally, it’s as fine as it gets with classical old vine power and concentration twinned with dense satin soft tannins and Bordeaux first growth balance. But this wine represents a whole that is clearly much greater than the sum of its parts and a lot of this must surely be attributed to the noteworthy ancient, and now almost extinct, Bordeaux varieties in the blend. A privilege to taste a rarity like this. Drinking now to 2045+

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

Another New White Variety in South Africa that Points to the Future Instead of the Past – Tasting the Momento Grenache Gris 2017…

Marelise Niemann officially launched her Momento label in 2013 when she was still working for Beaumont winery in the Bot River region. She has recently taken up wine making duties at Anysbos Winery in the Bot River owned by Peter-Allan Finlayson’s uncle-in-law. Marelise has been making her previous wines at Gabrielskloof along side Peter-Allan and John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) but will now move her production to Anysbos aswell.

Following 4 drought years in the Cape and a continuing uncertain future for winemaking using many cooler climate varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Merlot etc., it is great to see that Marelise has become a real champion for varieties like Grenache, Grenache Gris, Verdelho, Tinta Barocca and Chenin Blanc, some of which may possibly point the way forward in future to more dry grown plantings as water becomes an ever scarcer commodity.

This new release is made from young Grenache Gris vines planted on the decomposed granite soils of Willie Mostert’s farm in the Voor-Paardeberg area. Grapes were destemmed and crushed and followed by a 7 day cold soak on the skins before a natural yeast fermentation commenced. The wine was then aged for 10 months in old French oak barrels. Only 4 barrels were produced.

Momento Grenache Gris 2017, WO Voor Paardeberg, 12.5 Abv.

The wine is beautifully mineral and dusty with pronounced notes of crushed granite, fynbos, dried thatch and hints of white citrus, soap stone and pithy, peppery green apples. The palate is impressively focused, texturally tight grained and super saline with intense liquid minerality marrying layers of white peach stone fruit, nougat glacé, tangerine peel and waxy green apples. An expertly proportioned white that is chiselled, concentrated and strictly linear in the mouth. There really is something special here and all from young vines. Wow! This is a new wine to track down and buy.

Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW

Only 90 bottles made their way to the UK.

Affordable and Accessible Pinot Noir from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting the La Vierge The Affair 2016…

Everyone knows Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to cultivate to high quality standards and certainly it does not make for good cheap wine very easily… if at all! The grapes for the La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir were harvested in six batches by hand for this delicious cuvee, enjoying cool early morning temperatures with vines yielding 2 to 4 tons/ha (13 – 26 hl/ha)… which is relatively meagre.

In the cellar, after overnight cold storage the grapes were sorted, destemmed and gently crushed into fermentation tanks. Cold maceration occurred for an average of 3 days until spontaneous fermentation begun. The wine was then fermented under controlled temperatures until dry. The skins were then lightly pressed and the wine racked into a selection of French oak barrels for 9 months ageing and maturation. The final blending occurred one month prior to bottling and the wine was allowed to develop further in bottle prior to release. The results are impressive for this heartbreak variety!

La Vierge lying just north of Hermanus in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

La Vierge The Affair Pinot Noir 2016, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, 13.5 Abv.

The Affair Pinot Noir 2016 is a refined, stylish Pinot Noir showcasing the love affair between the soft feminine side of Pinot Noir, being the lifted floral perfume, hints of potpourri and spice, the textural silkiness; and the masculine linear strength of the mineral tannins, hints of oak and brooding dark forest floor aromas. The palate is both silky and textured, displaying a lovely fleshy rondeur as well as soft, integrated tannins, crisp bright acids and impressive length. High quality cool climate Pinot Noir for an excellent price… the vinous holy grail! Drink now and over 5 to 8 years. 

(90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Recommended Retail Price in the UK £18.99pb

Wines Built to Stand the Test of Time – Tasting the Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco 1976…

When ever I drink an old Tondonia white, I feel it’s almost a duty to document these vinous gems and capture their exquisitely complex and exotic nuances for future reference. The occasions and frequency to enjoy these old Rioja bottles becomes fewer and fewer as every year goes by yet many of them are still some years off peak maturity such is the greatness and age ability of these wines.

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva Blanco 1976, 12 Abv.

A delicious, incredibly well proportioned offering revealing beautiful freshness of grated lemon peel, bergamot, peach tea, bees wax and Japanese green tea with threads of caramelised oak and vanilla pod spice. The palate has an alluring tertiary oxidative note of diesel rag, sun dried apricots, creamy honied white peaches, bruised yellow orchard fruits and tart lemon cordial with a complexing lick of salted toffee spice on the finish. A wine that really blossoms with 15-20 minutes in the glass as it slowly unfurls its multi-dimensional offering after over 40 years of ageing. Just another beautifully profound Rioja Blanco from Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia.

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

Many thanks to Chef Roger Jones for sharing this delicious bottle over lunch.

Another Bright Young Winemaker to Watch in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – Tasting Natasha Williams Signature Wines Chardonnay…

After many years of industry employers frowning upon winemakers and assistant winemakers doing their own creative side projects, it has thankfully now almost become the norm with employees free to experiment and let their creative juices flow while the employer not only retains the winemaker but undoubtedly benefits from the extra knowledge and creative inspiration spawned by these side projects.

The latest one on my radar is the highly talented Natasha Williams who by day works at the Bosman Winery’s Hemel-en-Aarde property but “after hours” makes some delicious Chardonnay under Natasha Williams Signature Wines. I recently acquired a sample of her new 2017 Chardonnay and what a cracker it is!

Produced from grapes originating in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, a specially selected high density (6667 vines per HA) block from the DeBos Farm was vinified to produce 1,060 bottles. Picked early in the morning, the grapes were trucked to the Lelienfontein Cellar in Wellington where they were basket pressed and the juice allowed to start a spontaneous natural yeast fermentation lasting 2 months with 50% in concrete tanks and 50% in older 300 litre French oak barrels. The wine spent 10 months on fine lees in 3rd and 4th fill barrels before being racked and aged a total of 16 months in French oak. (13 Abv., 3.31 pH, 5.84 TA, 2.2 RS).

Natasha Williams Chardonnay 2017, Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, 13 Abv.

An attractive cooler climate expression of Chardonnay is always a vinous treat from South Africa. In the glass you can indulge in a wonderful bouquet of pithy lemon and lime peel, limestone minerality, dusty crushed gravel, white pepper and yellow grapefruit preserve with just the most subtle salted toffee vanilla oak kiss. On the palate, the wine is classically steely and linear as you’d expect but with an incredibly fine accompanying textural balance, waxy soap stone minerality, grated lemon rind, more limestone, caramelised green fig and succulent ripe honeydew melon notes on the finish. I love the purity, crystallinity and elegance that is ever present with the wine never straying too far into the reductive spectrum while retaining a wonderful sense of restraint. A very impressive solo debut from winemaker Natasha Williams.

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

Vassaltis Vineyards – The New Premium Rising Star From Santorini in the Southern Aegean Archipelago…

Few wine producing countries globally are on the worldwide ascendancy quite like South Africa with its incredible diversity of grapes varieties, its broad array of wine styles produced, its new young energetic winemakers and the ever rising quality of the premium wines. But just before you think this popular success is confined solely to a New World nation, rest assured, one of the most ancient grape growing countries in the world is also riding the crest of an ever growing wave of popularity. Greek wines, but more specifically the white Assyrtiko wines of the Cyclade island of Santorini are currently seeing a renaissance not witnessed in classical Western wine markets since the mid-2000’s when now iconic producers like the late Haridimos Hatzidakis burst onto the United Kingdom wine scene with profound unoaked old vine Assyrtiko whites from this small volcanic oasis in the Southern Aegean Archipelago.

After reaching a notional pinnacle of commercial success towards the late 2000’s, the global crash and subsequent Greek financial crisis in 2010 served to relegate most of the up and coming Greek wines, including the hugely successful wines of Santorini, back to the touchlines of mainstream wine markets as consumers reluctantly battened down the hatches and anecdotally reverted back to buying the classics of France, Spain and Italy again.

With Winemaker Yiannis and owner Yiannis in the Vassaltis cellar.

It was around this time that Yiannis Valambous, the current day owner and visionary behind the Vassaltis winery,decided to leave his career in financial services in London and return to Santorini, a childhood holiday destination, with a plan to revive the family vineyards that he inherited from his late father in 2012 and build a modern, state of the art premium boutique winery. Along with oenologist Elias Roussakis and winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou, Yiannis created a team with a shared vision of producing the greatest wines on the island.

The new Vassaltis Winery in Vourvoulos

I recently travelled to the island of Santorini to visit the Vassaltis winery and vineyards to better acquaint myself with the realities of growing premium grapes on this barren volcanic island and to better understand the intricate politics of sourcing the best fruit from the numerous small, fractured mosaic of local growers on the island.

Vassaltis Winery Tasting Friday 19th October With Owner Yiannis Valambous and Winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou

Vassaltis Aidani Limited Bottling 2017, PGI Cyclades, 13.5 Abv.

Palate bright lime straw colour. Mouth watering aromas of white peach, cream soda, green apple purée, honey suckle. These big Aidani bunches with thick skins are considered a fine variety to communicate the vineyard’s terroir. With a full and fleshy entry, there is a bitter liquorice bite, pithy spice, a delicately waxy texture and noticeable floral, saline mineral green apple intensity. Soapy, peachy, peppery and opulent, this late ripener has its own fleshy gregarious personality. Considered in many ways the alter ego of Assyrtiko with a higher pH and lower acids.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Nassitis Dry White Wine 2017, Protected Geographical Indication Cyclades, 13.5 Abv.

Nassitis was the word by which the Dorians, who lived on the island 4000 years ago, referred to someone originating from an island. Created to use the varieties Aidani and Athiri (as well as a few others) that are often grown in field blends with Assyrtiko. But without the Assyrtiko additions, the wines often lacked balance and a finish. Assyrtiko consisted of 10-15% in the maiden 2015 release but has subsequently increased to 47% in the 2017 release, often coming from a second selection of Assyrtiko that does not make the Vassaltis Grand Vin. The wine also includes 25% to 30% each of Aidani and Athiri with an RS below 2 g/l. The nose shows and exotic bouquet of honeysuckle, peach blossom, yellow orchard fruits and crunchy green apples and greengage fruit notes but with a pronounced vein of minerality never far away. Classical dusty minerality of pumice stone and basalt remind you of the volcanic origins of this wine. On the palate, there is a taut linear tension, stony liquid minerality and subtle piquant green peppery herby fruits, spicy white peach purée and subtle nuances of sappy, resinous white citrus oil. The finish is direct and foursquare in the mouth with salinity, and a pronounced maritime influence.

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

The black volcanic basalt found in the vineyards

Vassaltis Nassitis Dry White Wine 2016, Protected Geographical Indication Cyclades, 13.5 Abv.

Using 40% Assyrtiko and 30% each of Aidani and Athiri with an RS just over 5 g/l RS, the 2016 has an opulent, exotic nose of fresh vinyl, mechanics rag, salty green apple purée, brine and hints of oyster shell in an almost off-dry Alsace style. Full and fleshy, with the extra bottle age the Assyrtiko is starting to dominate the shorter aromatic profile of the Aidani. There are complex savoury fruit notes developing showing caramelised figs, bruised greengage plums and peach pastille on the long characterful finish. Drinking well now, it displays a friendly generosity in an accessible style. Delicious now.

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

Vassaltis Vineyards Assyrtiko Vertical:

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2017, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.8 Abv.

With around 1 g/l RS, this 100% Assyrtiko was fermented in stainless steel from fruit sourced 100% from the village vineyards of Vourvoulos and spent a varying time on its lees depending on when it was bottled, but usually between 6 and 11 months for the last bottling before the 2018 harvest. (This bottling is around 9 to 11 months). Classical Assyrtiko aromatics of crushed grey slate, basalt and dusty pumice stone with additional layers of saline maritime notes, oyster shell, crunchy green apples, apple pastille, musk, white citrus, leesy richness and sweet baking herbs. Intense and powerful, the palate shows impressive gravitas and depth, brimming with salty green fruits, crunchy white peach and smokey, dusty liquid mineral notes. Superbly crafted, there is a fabulous interplay between maritime salinity, terroir minerality and austere, taut, crystalline fruit purity. Really quite a profound expression of this noble variety.

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

The famous old vine “kouloura” trained Assyrtiko vines

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2016, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

Also 100% Assyrtiko from Vourvoulos, the 2016 saw 40% spontaneous fermentation and was aged on its lees for between 6 and 11 months, with this late bottling seeing 9 to 11 months. With a little extra bottle age, this 2016 shows extra complexity and exoticism. Massive aromatic depth and breadth is loaded with yellow plum, sea breeze, green apple purée, crunchy green pears, dried figs, white peach and a profound saline, maritime, fragrant honeysuckle liquid minerality. On the palate, there is a rich sour and savoury texture with impressive salinity, chalky gravel, wet river pebbles, piquant herbs and a tart sourdrop salty yellow plum acidity. So much going on that ones palate is almost overwhelmed. Delicious evolution and complex tertiary profile, this wine is drinking beautifully at the moment and is a mineral pleasure bomb. Beautiful!

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

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2015, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

The first vintage vinified at the new Vassaltis winery, this wine still displays a crystalline, bright pale straw green lime brightness. On the nose there is fabulous complexity of lime peel, struck match, white citrus, yellow grapefruit, sour orange and then a savoury bass note of ripe artichoke earthiness. The dusty, stony mineral nuances are never far away, expressed as a more struck flint smokiness than the archetypal basalt and volcanic minerality we are so used to on Santorini Assyrtiko whites. The palate is super tart and fresh, linear and chalky, with a strict line of acidity and plenty of ‘dry Scheppes bitter lemon’ rasping intensity. The salinity and tart acidity loosens it grip right at the finish, unleashing a fresh wave of yellow grapefruit, brine and salted pear fruit. A wine drinking beautifully now but certainly will be equally enthralling in one or two years time. Very impressive.

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

With the two Yiannis’s in their single vineyard in Vourvoulos.

Classic, barren, volcanic low potential soils of Santorini that are so suited to the Assyrtiko vines.

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2014, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 12.8 Abv.

This was first “unofficial” vintage produced from fruit from owner Yiannis’ own vineyards. Produced at the large Boutari winery in the south of the island, this wine just crept in with the legal limit of 75% Assyrtiko with the remainder being the rest of the field blend of Aidani and Athiri. Very rustic winemaking was employed in a big outdated 1980’s winery. The colour is instantaneously recognisable as different to the lime green 2015, showing a rich honied yellow gold. The nose is ripe and exotic with layers of bruised yellow orchard fruits, mechanics rag, caramelised fig, yellow peach purée and peach tea. Definitely savoury, earthy tertiary development on the nose while the palate somehow manages to retain a semblance of freshness balanced with a honied textured palate similar to aged Alsace or grand old Portuguese dry whites from the Dao. While this wine is not in the same quality league as the newer vintages produced at the Vassaltis winery, it remains an intriguing piece of vinous history in the ongoing journey of this new young premium winery.

(Wine Safar Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2016 Barrel Aged, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.7 Abv.

This 100% Assyrtiko was fermented in stainless steel but aged in 500 litre second fill French oak with ample batonnage employed, remaining in barrel for around 4.5 months before being returned to stainless steel tanks on its fine lees for a further 7 months ageing. There is a lovely restrained nose of yellow citrus, yellow orchard fruits, petrichor, wet slate and basalt minerality. Oak influence is very subdued and the fruit expression also remains backward and shy, leaving the salty, stony mineral nuances to rule the roost at the moment. The most profound element of this wine is its explosive concentrated palate that displays such awesome gravitas and intensity with notes of pineapple pastille and white peach purée. At once texturally rich, broad and mouth coating while remaining bright, tart and deliciously saline. This is a wine that has left an impression on me since the very first day I tasted it. Some may scoff at the idea of ageing Assyrtiko in oak and thus adulterating the purest elements of its volcanic maritime terroir, but this 2016 wine is a towering winemaking effort with impressive gravitas, harmonious balance and imperious textural complexity. Drink now or over the next 5 to 8 years.

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

Winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou in the cellar.

Other New Wines Tasted:

Vassaltis Assyrtiko Single Vineyard Vourvoulos 2017, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 14.3 Abv. (1,700 bottles produced)

A 1.5 hectare vineyard in Vourvoulos which has a small amount of Athiri that is picked separately at an earlier date to the Assyrtiko. Around 1.9 tons of Assyrtiko fruit are picked at night and whole bunch pressed with around only 2.5 hours between picking and pressing which the winery feels has a massive influence on the style, purity and integrity of the resulting wine. The wine is certainly aromatically massively restrained and backward, showing shy subtle nuances of dried green herbs, green apple bon bons, crystalline honeydew melon, white peach purée and an underlay of dusty, granitic, crushed basalt rock and grey slate minerality. On the palate the wine shows pin point piercing precision, incredible subtlety and elegance, nuanced maritime notes of brine, oyster shell and salted white citrus. It just never puts a foot out place, remaining fantastically true to the varietal characteristics of Assyrtiko, its terroir influences and its profound volcanic liquid minerality. Extra focus, extra intensity and a seemingly impossible step up yet again in quality compared to the wineries ‘regular’ Assyrtiko cuvée. Due for release in May 2019 with almost 9 months ageing in bottle, this could be one of the greatest expressions of pure Assyrtiko ever seen from Santorini in modern times.

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

“This cuvee is like an orchestra seeking greater presence, where instead of trying to turn up the volume for overt impact, it has instead increased the number of musicians from 20 players to 100. The resulting sound is exponentially more profound and the added gravitas spellbinding.”

Vassaltis Assyrtiko Single Vineyard 2016, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 14.8 Abv.

A 100% Assyrtiko wine that is late harvested around two weeks after the main picking of Assyrtiko. A very small amount of grapes, too small for the pneumatic press, so only real free run juice was collected followed by spontaneous fermentation started in tank before being transferred to a 40 year old barrel which developed a layer of flor after being “seeded” from a flor sample created at the winemakers Yiannis’ home in a jar under more controlled humidity conditions but using some of the same wine. The flor layer collapsed into the wine after 2 months so the barrel was topped up with Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko 2016. This flor barrel was then blended with a portion of remaining free run juice from the same vineyard which was aged 3 months in a 100% new French oak 225 litre barriques. The blended wine stayed in stainless steel 6 months before bottling in 75cl and 150cl bottles.

The nose shows a wonderfully creamy, dusty, biscuity nose of lees, lemon peel, honey suckle, dried herbs, Japanese green tea and tell tale salty sherry flor salinity nuances. Subtle notes of dried mint leaf, bruised yellow orchard fruits, wet grey slate and wet basalt round out a thoroughly complex and intriguing bouquet. Texturally full and broad, this has an incredibly concentrated texture of salted lemons, tequila agave spice, bitter oranges, salty oyster shell, white peaches, grated pears, pine apple pastille, botanical herbs and an awesome, towering acidity. This wine combines savoury citrus fruits with salty maritime flor background notes punctuated by tart searing acids and a savoury, liquid mineral, leesy sweet / sour finish. One of the most exciting and profound wines I have tasted (from anywhere) in a very long time. One for the collectors!

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

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2017 Barrel Aged, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.8 Abv.

With the 2016 already being one of my favourite wines from Vassaltis, knowing that the 2017 vintage is a quite serious proposition, led to a lot of extra anticipation to taste this new wine. With 4 g/l RS, this wine remains taut and linear in feel, the bouquet showing attractive but subtle notes of salted caramel biscuits, savoury lemon peel, rock salt and crushed basalt and gravel minerality. Plenty of restraint and reserved liquid minerality, this wine suggests a serious proposition and the palate doesn’t disappoint. Jammed packed full of pineapple pastille and sweet crunchy green apple, there are deliciously vibrant acids with a serious wound sprung tension that is accentuated by the clarity of fruit purity and tart pithy peach fruit salinity. Similar to the 2016 in many ways in the way it absorbs the oak and barrel ageing and offers back nothing but the purest of Assyrtiko citrus fruits, subtle vanilla pod spice and layers of liquid minerality. This is benchmark delicious Santorini.

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

The very old vine vineyards in the south west of the island near Pyrgos producing some of the best Assyrtiko fruit on the island.

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2015 Barrel Aged, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

This late release expression was held back in the winery and will be release in approximately 2020 with a free SO2 of approximately 60ppm versus the original release of 2015 that was around 35ppm. This is a big bold fleshy Assyrtiko that is capable of handling not only lengthy barrel ageing but also extended bottle ageing with the addition of extra SO2 added before the final bottling.The aromatics are fairly mineral and tight, dusty and gravelly with a pronounced chalky lemon purity, green bananas, greengage plum and a generally tauter, fresher, more youthful overall feel to the wine with a gentle kiss of vanilla oak spice. The palate comes across as slightly two speed and two dimensional versus the complex melange of yellow pastille fruits and vanilla spice that was served up the last time I tasted the maiden barrel aged 2015 version. Taut, softly textured, mellow yet vibrantly fresh and retrained, this wine suggests great potential but currently is reticent and unwilling to release its hidden secrets that one can sense are there in abundance. This is a great forward thinking endeavour that will help show consumers the history and evolution of some of Vassaltis’ older expressions but also present the wines in a mellow, youthful well preserved format. A very excitingprospect for the future.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The view from the town of Thira towards Skaros Rock.

The General Classification System on Santorini:

1. PDO : Protected Designation of Origin Santorini

2. PGI : Protected Geographical Indication Cyclades

3. Varietal Classification

4. VdT : Vin de Table style

A Rare and Wonderful Tasting Evening In London With the Owners of Lopez de Heredia…

The scarcity and rarity that now hampers regular drinking of the Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia whites, roses and Gran Reserva reds has been well documented. With such irregular releases due to very specific and long cellar ageing regimes, the wines of Lopez de Heredia usually sell out long before a successor vintage is ready to be released to the market with the only exception perhaps being their Reserva Tinto Rioja.

With Jose Luis scheduled to come over to London for Lopez de Heredia’s UK importer tasting, I managed to steal him away for a precious evening to present a wonderful masterclass centred around a selection of the rare Vina Gravonia white Riojas. But it was a wonderful and most welcomed surprise when at the last moment, Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia decided to join her husband on the flying trip to London.

Maria Jose and husband Jose Luis…

With a special line up of wines, Maria Jose and Jose Luis presented a fascinating and insightful masterclass to a sell out crowd of Rioja-philes. However, the evening was highlighted by Maria Jose as being even more special because of all the wines Lopez de Heredia produce, they never hold back archive stock of their Vina Gravonia, thus making vertical tastings of back vintages of this wine extremely rare and infrequent occurrences!

Vina Gravonia Vertical:

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2008

Wet rainy year

Delicious freshness and vibrancy, liquid honey on white toast, roasted nuts, grilled herbs and bergamot nuances. Seamless, rich and texturally very harmonious and sleek, there is such fine balance and savoury lemon concentration. Youth, linear, taut.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2004

Cool high quality year

Delicately savoury and earthy bruised lemon and peach tea nose with old honey, nutty spice and subtle wood spice and crushed limestone minerality. Super sleek, relaxed and piquant, wonderfully harmonious texture but a resurgent, piquant, crystalline finish with power and persistence. Very youthful.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2003

Very hot, dry year

Richer and more opulent with peach tea, bees wax, honey, grilled nuts, bergamot and waxy green apples. Fleshy and more texturally honied and exotic with a lower acid mouthfeel but delicious richness and complexity. Delicious, ripe apple pastille finish.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2002

Difficult, wet rainy year with botrytis

Earthy, honied, savoury aromatics with a pronounced peachy, stone fruit character, almonds and crushed gravel. Palate is creamy, mellow, honied and beautifully plush and textural with a seamless satin mouthfeel, peach tea, apple purée and a tart, fresh spicy, crystalline pure finish. Very impressive.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Gravonia Rioja Blanco 2001

An exceptional year

Super complex nose of wet limestone, old honey on white toast, struck flint, peach stone and vinyl and bees wax. The palate follows with liquid minerality, great tension and power, with a wonderfully mellow, relaxed, supple texture, fantastic focus and persistence and a long, complex, profound finish. Incredible white expression.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco Reserva 2005

Very good year

With a small percentage of Malvasia blended with the Viura, vines are grown on clay and limestone soils and show a more honied, vanilla spice bouquet with cedar spice, roasted nuts, grilled herbs, dried mint leaf and lemon cordial. Palate possesses great gravitas, density and textural depth and breadth, with a creamy glycerol weight, wonderful smokey, nutty, peachy concentration and a soft, fleshy length. Beautiful wine.

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

Red Flight:

Lopez de Heredia Vina Bosconia Rioja Tinto Reserva 2006

Cool, dark, mellow elegant nose of polished mahogany, vanilla pod, savoury plum, black cherry and earthy black berry with a subtle layer of graphite minerality. The palate is super elegant, polished and finely linear with salty liquorice, black cherry, strawberry and a finely poised harmonious mineral finish. A beautiful, expressive, elegant rendition.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Tinto Reserva 2006

Sweetly fruited nose with delicious nuances of salty liquorice, caramelised black cherries, black savoury plums with a complexing note of polished oak in an old library. Beautifully textural, harmonious, suave and fleshy with piquant grip, graphite tannins and a fine, harmonious, minerality focused finish. Concentrated but accessible, very generous and a very smart expression of this iconic wine.

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Tinto Gran Reserva 1994

Impressively complex tertiary bouquet of polished mahogany, red apple purée, smokey graphite, charcoal wood embers, savoury root veg and beetroot earthiness with a subtle, salty, maritime, blackberry finish. Super creamy and lactic, plush and fleshy with complex earthy bruised plums and stewed strawberry and winter fruits. Dense and taut, grippy, youthful mineral tannins and a long, profound classical finish. Wow!

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

Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Tinto Gran Reserva 1980

Fabulous tertiary nose of malted chocolate milkshakes, coffee sweets, espresso, grilled nuts, almond spice, caramelised oak spice, creamy earthy stewed winter fruits and savoury bruised plums. Superb seamless intensity, harmony and focus in a mature, generous, intriguingly aged mellow Rioja style.

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

Post dinner drinks starting with some Mullineux white, who’s winemaker, Andrea Mullineux, is a close friend and follower of the wines of Lopez de Heredia.