In the wine trade, we spend so much time finding wines, tasting wines, negotiating the purchase of wines and selling wines that sometimes it’s good to pause, reflect, and actually drink some fine wines.
With Burgundy En-primeur 2015 reaching a successful climax, it seemed fitting to close off the campaign with a wonderful Grand Cru Burgundy lunch at La Trompette, one of London’s best 1 Star Michelin restaurants.
As always, some top wines were expertly served, creatively matched with fantastic food, and enjoyed in good company, just as the producers intended them to be. Simple.
Champagne Krug Grande Cuvee NV – 94+/100 GS (Aged in cellar on cork from release at least 10 years)
Domaine Michel Niellion Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2013 – 93+/100 GS
Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2012 – 96/100 GS
We all like premium wines. But occasionally, we all have to trade down to more affordable, drinkable options, like perhaps a second wine? The rise in popularity of premium Bordeaux second wines in the international fine wine marketplace is not necessarily a trend that began in 2016 but it is certainly one which solidified further and gained a massive amount of extra momentum.
This trend was confirmed by year end trading figures on the Liv-ex Fine Wine Exchange, with a massive increase in purchasing of a wide spectrum of second labels, primarily from premium or super premium Chateaux names.
The fine wine crash of 2011 not only brought a stark dose of reality back to an over heated, over priced, over ambitious Bordeaux market, but also massive, sustained loses for buyers of En-primeur from 2010, 11, 12, 13, and 14… with only a glimmer of respite emerging with the 2015 releases and the post-Brexit, post-pound depreciation fine wine gold rush that commenced in Mid-2016.
So this second wine popularity trend perhaps has its true origins in the price rises of 2009-10… two exceptional, though expensive, vintages where the quality of many top Chateaux second wines were as good if not better than the first wines from previous lesser vintages like 2006, 07, or even 08.
Producing and selling through €150-300 Euro per bottle first wines with potential production volumes of 5,000 to 10,000 cases (not bottles), was never going to be easy in a world approaching its 9th year of austerity economics. Cleverly, Chateaux realised if they reduced production of the first wines down to 2,000 or 3,000 cases, and upped the production and quality of second wines at lower, more accessible prices, they could successfully maintain the super premium prices and perceived scarcity value of their first wines.
So which Chateaux second wines offer the consumer good value for money? Over the coming weeks and months in the lead up to En-primeur 2016 in April, I’ll be tasting an ongoing series of second wines to see if I can strike vinous gold. I hope you will join me on this fine wine safari!
2016 has been a busy year in the U.K. trade. Gone are the days of defined seasonality that used to resemble something like … Mediocre to very busy in January incorporating Burgundy En-primeur, quiet “gone skiing” February and then back to work in earnest in March…normally incorporating a couple of trips to South Africa, and then back, straight into the melee of Bordeaux En-primeur and Italian Super Tuscan new releases. Non-stop until July, then a bit of wind-down over the summer months before picking up the fine wine reigns one last time for the final push to Christmas.
Nope. Doesn’t work like that anymore. While seasonality has been on the way out for some time, the Brexit vote result and subsequent depreciation of the pound against the dollar and euro, ensured the busiest sustained fine wine market action in the U.K. since 2010/11. Indeed, the past year now seems a blur, albeit a successful blur.
After recently reading journalist Tim James’ 2016 year in reflection, I agree that I too am not a massive fan of Top 10s … or 20s etc, wines of the year lists. Like him, I prefer to contemplate my “most memorable” wines of the year… the ones that were accompanied with a “wow” moment and then firmly lodged themselves in your subconscious wine psyche.
I’ve probably missed a couple, and have almost certainly left a few older vintages off in favour of more current releases, but all the below wines made an impact on me and my palate! So well done to the wineries! Onwards and upwards in 2017!
5 Memorable White Wines
David & Nadie Hoe Steen Chenin Blanc Swartland 2015 – 98/100
I sat on the blind Decanter Magazine panel that judged this wine top of the tree. Maybe next time David will decide to make more than one bloody barrel!! Oi vey!
Sadie Family OVS Skurfberg 2015 – 96/100
This wine from Eben Sadie is normally a slow starter, requiring a bit of time in bottle to show at its best. But with the extra 2015 vintage concentration and intensity, it’s spectacularly good from the start. Fill your cellar with this gem.
Ataraxia Chardonnay 2015 – 95/100
Tasted and rated blind recently, this is Kevin Grant at his dogged and determined best. A benchmark Chardonnay from an obliging vintage. I think I even dreamt about drinking and tasting this wine afterwards!
Naude Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 – 95/100
Tasted again recently at the Ian Naude Old Vine Masterclass in London, along side his 2015. Well, if Coche-Dury made Chenin Blanc, it would probably taste something like this beauty! A really profound white wine that’s also age worthy.
Thorne & Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2015 – 95/100
While Semillon has hit the big time again, this one just piped a few other great wines from 2015. I loved the versions from Jacques Wentzel and Chris Alheit, but the Paper Kite just seemed to be that little more seductive, earlier.
5 Memorable Red Wines
MR de Compostella 2014 – 96/100
This is one of my favourite SA reds. While I’m yet to taste a vintage that’s even near maturity, I believe the MR will one day be revered as one of the longest lived SA reds a la GS Cabernet 66 and 68. The maiden MR 2004 is still a baby. Patience is definitely required.
Kanonkop Black Label Pinotage 2014 – 96/100
Kanonkop has always been closely aligned with Majestic Wine Warehouses in the U.K., making it difficult for independent merchants to champion one of SA’s greatest producers. In 2016 this changed and I finally shipped some of their Cabernet, Paul Sauer, and their Black Label 2014, a profoundly good wine, regardless of varietal!
Savage Follow the Line 2015 – 95/100
Duncan Savage carved out a niche as one of SA’s best “white wine makers”. Now he is firmly engaged in convincing the wine world of his new credentials as simply… “one of SA’s very best winemakers”… period! His reds are possibly even better than his whites (dare I say that?) and I predict that in the grand wine scheme, we ain’t seen nothing yet!
Mullineux Family Wines Schist Syrah 2014 Swartland – 95/100
I’ve never denied being more of a Bordeaux guy than a Rhone kind of guy, but when you taste such a suave, terroir driven expression like the Schist Syrah, I’m easy to convert! A wine and producer that in my opinion, is still to really receive it’s just international acclaim among connoisseurs … though Andrea Mullineux’s recent Wine Enthusiast Wine Maker of the Year title in 2016 might just help!
Newton Johnson CWG Seadragon Pinot Noir 2015 – 95/100
Tasted this at the fabulous Cape Winemakers Guild press tasting in London pre-auction. Everyone in the room was swept off their feet including big wigs Dr Jamie Goode and Tim Atkin MW. A really profound expression of South African Pinot Noir. A real WOW wine!
So a big thank you to all my friends, be they wine makers, estate owners, wine merchants or wine journalists for making 2016 another epic year of wine friendships and fine wine experiences. 2017 can only be better.
Last night was the Handford Wines Christmas Tasting for 150 of our best clients. I could not miss this opportunity to highlight some of the fantastic South African 2015 vintage whites and reds that have arrived over the Autumn. We are spoilt for choice in London!
Here are some of my top 2015 picks of the night with the odd sneaky 2014 also getting in on the act! We are blessed in South Africa with such diversity and quality. You’d be mad not to seek out these wines and fill your cellar with them!
2016 and 2017 vintages look like being very low yielding drought vintages. All the more reason to buy the sumptuous 2015s!
Beautiful Mother Rock pair from Stompie Meyer. What a vintage to launch his new Cuvees to the world! Both the Grenache (95/100) and the Carignan-Cinsaut (93+/100) were on fire last night.
Jocelyn Hogan’s Chenin Blanc has taken the market by storm. The 2014 was a beaut, the 2015 leaves you gasping for air it’s so good (95/100).
John Seccombe has built a towering reputation in a matter of years. He reaches new heights of greatness with his epic white Rocking Horse 2015 blend (95+/100).
We all know wizard Andre van Rensberg is capable of making incredible wines. This small “Liberated” parcel of Helderberg 2015 Semillon (with a splash of 2016 Sauvignon Blanc) illustrates his exceptional talents (93/100).
No fine wine tasting would be complete with out South Africa’s most acclaimed Bordeaux red blend. Here the MR de Compostella 2014 struts its stuff and impresses like we know it can. A beautiful Cabernet Franc driven expression (96/100).
Can there be anyway better way to finish off a tasting than with a sweet wine made by the Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of The Year 2016? Andrea Mullineux, with husband Chris, have followed up their Olerasay Solera Straw Wine release (98/100) with the fantastically good 2015 Chenin Blanc Straw Wine (97/100), winner of the Platter Guide 2017 Sweet Wine of the Year. Need I say more?
I recall the pronouncement from Robert Parker Jr. well… “This is the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa.” He was of course referring to his tasting of the first vintage of the Anwilka red blend 2005. I always knew which vintage was specifically mentioned, but I somehow struggled to find this quote again when a year later, I wanted to reference it to introduce a release offer of Anwilka 2005.
This statement made a surprise come back today being boldly quoted in the introductory tasting brochure for the blind tasting arranged in London by Klein Constantia’s Managing Director Hans Astrom and Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal of Chateau Angelus fame.
Anwilka is of course a 48 hectare maritime influenced property in the Helderberg region purchased in the 1990s by the previous owners of Klein Constantia along with Hubert de Bouard of Angelus and Bruno Prats, formerly of Cos d’Estournel. The estate was extensively replanted with exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot vines.
Today’s tasting was an exercise in removing preconceptions surrounding premium South African wines and confirming that they can and do stand shoulder to shoulder quality wise with some of the greatest wines in the world. The tasting featured 8 wines, specifically chosen from multiple vintages, from all over the world.
My tasting notes below were written tasting the wines blind, and with out guidance as to their provenance other than assuming there would be several Anwilka wines and several Angelus wines. The results were intriguing. Here are my 8 wines and their scores:
What I Said: Old World, Bordeaux
Actual Wine: Chateau Angelus 2006
Score: 93/100 GS
Blind Note: Dark, rich fruits, perfume, red fruit spice and fine dry classical tannins, peppery restraint, some alcohol heat, finishing with power, grip and good concentration.
Wine No. 2
What I Said: New World, South Africa
Actual Wine: Anwilka 2005
Score: 88/100 GS
Blind Note: Sweet meaty stewed flavours, spice and warm ripeness, evolved tertiary notes, with 8 to 10 years development, finishing with savoury earthy berry fruit, green bean hints and wet leaves and chocolate.
Wine No. 3
What I Said: Old World, Italy
Actual Wine: Ridge Monte Bello 2011
Blind Note: Rich, opulent lifted nose, with kirsch, cherry blossom, violets, and cassis. Sleek, fresh and vibrant with masses of elegance and finesse. 2012 vintage?
Wine No. 4
What I Said: Old World, French Bordeaux
Actual Wine: Ornellaia 2008, Bolgheri
Blind Note: Ripe, kirsch cherry nose, cherry confit, spice, dusty cedar oak, violets, and creme de cassis. Earthy forest fruits, suave tannins, warm finish but plenty of elegance.
Wine No. 5
What I Said: New World, Australia
Actual Wine: Anwilka 2012
Score: 94/100 GS
Blind Note: Rich, opulent lifted nose of salty cassis, black currants, and dark pastille sweets. Refined and perfumed with Parma violets and hints of boiled Bon Bon sweets. Soft sleek textured wine that’s plush and fleshy. Laced with mocha spice and dark chocolate oranges. Almost Chilean characters to the black saline fruit finish.
Wine No. 6
What I Said: Old World, French Bordeaux
Actual Wine: Chateau Angelus 2012
Score: 93+/100 GS
Blind Note: Dusty spice of cinnamon, and mocha, vanilla pod and hints of medicine chest. Classically proportioned palate with dry mineral tannins, restraint, and grainy black cassis and mulberry confit. Powerful cherry spice laden finish. Young Bordeaux… 2011 or 2014?
Wine No. 7
What I Said: New World, USA
Actual Wine: Anwilka 2013
Score: 95/100 GS
Blind Note: Sweet creme brûlée and cassis, blue berry crumble, cherry and kirsch liqueur, ripe black currant. Very polished texture, super fine tannins, sweet / sour black cherry and cassis density, freshness with ultra fine tannins. Juicy fresh acids and a whole lot of finesse.
Wine No. 8
What I Said: New World, South Africa
Actual Wine: Cullen Diana Madeline 2014
Blind Note: Dark, dense core of black fruits, black currants, liquorice, Xmas cake, and sweet oak spice. Polished tannins, fleshy and opulent, good concentration with balance. Fine effort with ripe core but a classically layered texture and tannins. Classy wine in its youth.
So, there you have my humble scribblings for what they’re worth. As any wine judge or journalist will tell you, tasting blind and noting ones own mistakes can be very humbling, but oh so much fun… and massively enlightening in hindsight. I was of course sitting next to the very great Stephen Spurrier, who has his own endless array of stories about a group of judges’ blind notes, scores and comments from a certain little tasting that took place back in 1976!
I feel if this had been an exam, I would have passed. But more importantly I have to tip my hat to Hans and Stephanie for organising such an enlightening tasting. 20 years ago when regularly tasting reds blind, we would pick out Californian wines by their polished finesse, purity, opulence, balance and precision. We all wished that South African wines could aspire to this greatness.
Today I fittingly picked a South African wine as not only my top scorer, but also placed it in a quality realm so good it had to be Californian! Oh how times have changed.
Venue was private members club Home House at 20 Portman Square, London
The 2015 Naomi is 100% Grenache gris made by Evan Lewandowski, with 105 year old vines from the Gibson Ranch of Mendocino’s McDowell Valley. Rather than treating this fuchsia-toned grape like a red wine and macerating it with its skins, Evan whole cluster pressed the fruit and seperated the juice from the skins to ferment in an egg-shaped tank. The manually controlled press cycle was a long, fairly rough one to extract a higher than average amount of phenolic material from the beautiful, unique fruit.
After about three weeks, native alcoholic fermentation was complete along with malolactic fermentation. The 2015 Naomi saw no winemaking additions of any kind except for a scant 20ppm of SO2 before being bottled unfiltered and unfined.
“Contrary to who most people imagine Ruth to be, she is not my mother, nor my grandmother, but my favorite book in the Bible. Without sounding ‘preachy,’ and in the interest of concisely summing things up, there is no better depiction of death and redemption than the book of Ruth (who just happened to be from a town called “Moab”). Much of my philosophy of farming and, in turn, winemaking is derived from this cycle of death and redemption (both in the physical realm we can see and the spiritual realm we often do not). Death is, indeed, the engine of life.” ~ Evan Lewandowski.
Tasting Note: Ruth Lewandowski Naomi Gibson Ranch 2015, California, 12 Abv. ~ Beautiful pale marmalade orange colour with a hint of pink blush. The nose is rich, expressive, pithy showing zesty marmalade jam, orange peel, salty briney gravelly minerals, wet river pebbles and an alka seltzer lift, dried herbs and grassy elderflower nuances. There is a fine density on the palate from these 105 year old Grenache Gris vines, with tangerine peel, lemon grass and spicy green pears. The subtle grape skin grip and spicy tannins add to the palate texture, all in beautiful balance. This is a complex, seductive wine that wills you to drink it! A real pleasure giver. No surprise then that this wine sold out within days of release… entering it into the unicorn lexicon! (Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Autumn is coming to an end and the Winter festive season is nearing. That means parties and of course plenty of corporate entertainment. Tonight myself and my colleague James were invited to Home House private members club to chat fine wine in a relaxed environment with 70 to 80 clients of one of our very good friends and leading fund manager, who has also been a loyal customer of ours for over 20 years.
The wines to lubricate conversation? Three classic Cabernet Sauvignon based wines… Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 from Napa Valley Stags Leap AVA at 13.5 Abv; Chateau Pontet Canet 2005 from Pauillac at 13 Abv; and Chateau Leoville Barton 2005 Saint Julien at 13 Abv.
The great thing about these events, other than some very good banter, is hearing people’s previous experiences with the wines you’re tasting and seeing their preferences. Also, not only do you get to taste the same wine from 4 or 5 different bottles, but you get to drink glasses of a classic wine in a relaxed manner instead of speed tasting and judging the wine.
The Stags Leap Cask 23 2009 was very popular as expected. Intensely satisfying layers of opulent black berry fruit, cassis and cherry spice, with gorgeous concentration and depth, and superbly integrated oak nuances. Impressive balance and textural harmony explains why this wine is described as the best Cask 23 since 1985 (95+/100).
The Chateau Pontet Canet 2005 Pauillac made from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot, and was the first vintage fermented in small cement cuves. Such depth and intensity, creme de cassis, black and blue berry inky nobility, fresh taught vibrant acidity and massive, dense, sweet ripe tannin power. Also a lovely saline cassis finish on the wine. Just about approachable now but certainly a wine for 20 or 30 years plus (97/100).
Lastly, the gentleman of the trio… the Leoville Barton 2005 from St Julien that was showing plenty of taught, fresh electric cassis fruit, oyster shell and salty black berries. Dramatic concentration and crunchy freshness, with a masculine texture, sweet ripe powerful tannins and massive persistent length. Enjoyable now but still way too youthful for real Bordeaux connoisseurs. But still fun to taste this wine in its adolescence. A real noble classic (96+/100).