Gaja Highlights Their New Tuscan Releases at a High Profile Masterclass in London…

In 2019, as Angelo Gaja reaches 78 years old, he has for the first time all his children, Gaia, Roxanna and Giovanni all working together representing the family’s multiple estates. So it was perhaps extra fitting that today Angelo Gaja was awarded the prestigious Institute of Masters of Wines’s Winemakers’ Winemaker Award at Prowein in Dusseldorf.

However, for this tasting in London, Gaia and Giovanni started by profiling the family’s most recent Gaja winery acquisition in 1996, running through the full range of Ca’Marcanda wines produced in Bolgheri, coastal Tuscany, home of legendary neighbours Guado al Tasso, Ornellaia and Sassicaia.

Ca’Marcanda is also the Gaja winery that has seen the most marked increase in quality over the past 5 years as new plantings age and the family slowly learns the true potential of the estate’s terroir that includes 27 different soil types.

Tasting with Gaia Gaja and Giovanni Gaja at the Lanesborough in London.

75 hectares were bought in Bolgheri in 1996 with another 50 hectares subsequently acquired near Bibbona, outside the DOC Bolgheri appellation, for fruit that goes into the Vistamare white and Sangiovese grapes for some of their non-DOC reds.

Ca’Marcanda Vistamare 2018, 14 Abv.

A blend of Vermentino and Viognier, the wine shows vibrant pithy aromatics loaded with white citrus, salty maritime notes, green apple, ripe pear, sweet blossom and chalky, stony notes. Despite the vintage’s rain, there is a fine stony green apple fruit concentration, rasping white citrus and a delicious fleshy texture.

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

Giovanni, Gaia and UK agent, Patrick McGrath MW from Hatch Mansfield.

Ca’Marcanda Promis 2017, 13.5 Abv.

55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese blend. An incredibly hot, dry year but not in the mould of 2003. The year started dry and hot so conditions were far more anticipated. Over ripeness has been avoided yielding a fine opulent example with plushness, sweet black berry fruited nose from tiny berries that embraces the subtle chocolatey mocha, nutty, oak notes and chalky, dusty mineral tannin on the finish. Very mineral and powerful, perfectly representing the small, thick skinned grapes vinified in this vintage.

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

Ca’Marcanda Magari 2017, 14 Abv.

A blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. The aromatics immediately show ample complex lifted perfume notes with layers of violets, lavender, coastal garrigue and sweet dark black bramble berries. Silky soft elegant texture, there is impressive freshness and generosity framed by chalky mineral graphite tannins, sweet blueberry and black cherry fruit concentration and a delicate concentrated cassis confit length. A wonderfully composed and orchestrated red blend with a lot of class.

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

Ca’Marcanda Camarcanda 2016, 14 Abv.

A blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. The flagship Red comes from the “almost perfect” 2016 vintage where Gaia said everything was in perfect balance and harmony. Already very open and “friendly”, the Carmacanda shows dense dark black currant depth, sweet cassis, graphite spice and a very restrained, fresh, crunchy concentrated finish with real verve and nerve, tension and generosity. The 17 degree C diurnal temperature shift between day and night during vintage really shows its imprint through bright, linear, vibrant glassy acids framing the pure, precise black fruits. Sublime precision and pinpoint elegance with substantial power and drive. This wine has class and quality written all over it. Possibly the finest Camarcanda flagship expression produced to date.

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

Gaja Winery owns wine estates in Barbaresco (Piedmont), Pieve Santa Restituta winery in Montalcino (Tuscany) and Ca’ Marcanda winery in Castagneto Carducci (Tuscany). In 2017, the Gaja family undertook a joint venture with the Graci family. Together they purchased vineyard acreage on the southern slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, where you can find Nerello Mascalese and Carricante varieties. Plans for the new Gaja winery are currently awaiting planning permission in Sicily.

Tasting Hamilton Russell’s 2018 Releases – A Small Concentrated Vintage of Distinguished Power and Depth…

I recently caught up with my favourite Hemel-en-Aarde couple Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in London while en route to Prowein. I always love tasting their new releases because you can rest assured that the quality of both their iconic Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir will be pushed higher every year, vintage permitting, as maestro winemaker Emul Ross spins his magic and learns to harness something extra from the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley terroir of the winery.

According to Anthony, the 2017 releases were stylistically considered a very elegant vintage and the subsequent 2018s a very low yielding year primarily due to damaging winds at flowering. But they managed to achieve an impressive fruit intensity at low alcohols using their own propagated Hamilton Russell yeasts developed after 1993. The Chardonnay 2018 was bottled in late December 2018.

Tasting the new 2018 releases with Anthony Hamilton Russell and Steven Spurrier.

The Pinot Noir 2018 release shows a tantalising melange of dark Gevrey Chambertin styled fruit with the structural richness of the 2016 combined with the Chambolle Musigny elegance and purity of the Hamilton Russell 2017. But apparently the 2018 wine continues to divide local opinion. The wine was bottled in late January 2019 unfined and with only the very coarsest of filtration.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.2 Abv.

Chatting to Anthony before tasting the 2018, he warned there might still be a hint of reduction on this young white wine. But to be honest, I found it very fresh, pure and delightfully fragrant, though perhaps aromatically a little more restrained and mineral at the moment, showing more yellow citrus, lemon pastille and wet chalk rather than struck match reduction. There is still a very subtle juvenile lick of salted caramel and vanilla spice from the oak barrel ageing, but on the palate, this is where the real pedigree of this wine is revealed. An ultra tight, pinpoint textural finesse, plenty of core energy and a classically restrained Burgundian dry lemon and limestone finish. Wonderfully intense and focused but simultaneously a suave and supremely balanced Chardonnay from the Walker Bay. Give this wine another 6 months in bottle after release and then indulge at will.

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

Enjoying some fine red and white Burgundy with Olive and Anthony while exploring the nuances of the 2018 vintage in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2018, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, 13.4 Abv.

Every new release reveals a vintage of Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir that is again purer, finer and more distinguished than the previous vintage. The 2018 is no exception showing a broody dark fruited nose with lashings of black cherry, black currant and salted black plums. At this young stage, the oak is incredibly well integrated allowing both the purity of black berry fruit and the limestone minerality to really shine through. On the palate, alluring hints of blueberry and mulberry dance a tightly choreographed routine supported by a well drilled accompaniment of mineral tannins finishing with a long, sappy, black bramble berry finish. This must surely rank as one of the finest young Pinot Noirs produced at the winery to date. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

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

A wine that divides opinion? Well, if the 2016 Pinot Noir can be considered more structured and Gevrey in style, the 2017s certainly earned an instant following with their feminine Chambolle styled elegance. For me, the 2018 Pinot is a dead ringer for a 1er Cru Nuits St Georges displaying depth and power, concentration and intensity of fruit with an artisanal workman-like Pinot Noir rusticity showing it’s hand. Classicists will be bowled over, novices might initially be slightly more challenged. Either way, the 2018 represents one of the highest quality “new era” Pinot Noir releases from the winery yet.

Marelise Niemann Making Waves in the Bot River – Tasting the Anysbos Maiden Releases…

Marelise Niemann officially launched her own 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 Momento wines at Gabrielskloof along side Peter-Allan and John Seccombe (Thorne & Daughters) but will move production of these to Anysbos as well.

I recently tasted the two new releases from Anysbos here in London with their newly appointed importers Woodwinters and was totally blown away by the very high quality of both the white and red. There is no doubting Marelise’s expert winemaking skills, but you do need good fruit to make great wines and judging from these new releases, this is definitely a winery to follow if you are a wine connoisseur!

Tasting with Marelise in London in 2018.

Anysbos Disdit 2017, WO Bot River, 13.5 Abv.

A Chenin Blanc 61%, Roussanne 21% and Grenache Blanc 18% blend fermented with natural yeasts and aged 10 months in old oak barrels. Wonderfully opulent and expressive from the first pour over flowing with aromatic notes of tangerine, sweet pineapple pastille and green apple peel. So voluptuous, generous and fleshy with superb textural balance, impressive fruit concentration and a singing blood orange and mango flesh finish! Very impressive.

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

Anysbos Grenache Noir 2017, WO Bot River,13.5 Abv.

Super complex and expressive nose that is very precise, detailed and perfumed with notes of cherry confit, botanicals, vermouth spice and a striking line of blood orange and pomegranate spice. The balance and weight is super fine, concentrated and harmonious, quite discreet and feminine in its own kind of way. If this is the quality Marelise has achieved with her maiden Anysbos vintages, it makes the mind boggle at the end game potential. Really delicious!

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

Tenerife Wine Odyssey – Jetting Off to Tenerife For the Bodegas Suertes del Marques New Cellar Opening Celebration…

When I last visited this island winery in August 2017, owner Jonatan Garcia Lima elucidated his grand plans for a new winery. Then when I caught up with him at subsequent tastings in London in early 2018, he asked me to put Monday 4th of March 2019 in my diary to make sure I did not miss his grand cellar opening celebration at the El Esquilon winery in La Orotava.

 

Roll on another year and before I knew it, it was time to jet off to Tenerife. I was accompanied on the same flight by Tenerife aficionado Daniel Primack, the UK Zalto glasses distributor, as well as jet setting wine journalist extraordinaire, Jamie Goode from www.wineanorak.com.

 

With Daniel Primack, Jonatan and Jamie Goode.

After a very quick hotel check in, we were whisked straight off for a comprehensive barrel tasting of all the 2018 red and white cuvees in the grand new cellar. Suertes del Marques produces around 55 different cuvees which are then blended into around 17 different wines. However, their Vino de Parcela (single vineyard) wines are easily the most important component of their range.

 

The lower vineyards at Suertes del Marques planted on clay loamy soils.

Vidonia 2018 was still completing malolactic fermentation when we tasted it but all the wines, almost without exception, showed an attractive accessible purity and opulence akin to the excellent quality 2017 vintage, another warm year with plenty of moisture. Almost all the wines produced are from the La Orotava Valley, however, there are of course a couple of interesting experimental barrels lurking in the cellar like the excellent Sortevera Amogoje 2018 white blend from the Taganana area and also the Taganana Margalagua red 2018. Both show excellent potential.

 

The 200 to 250 year old Listan Blanco vines on the property trained in the Cordon Trenzado method.

I wrote an extensive description of the vineyards and winery in 2017 which you can read here… https://gregsherwoodmw.com/2017/08/22/the-tenerife-wine-odyssey-exploring-the-wines-of-suertes-del-marques/

 

The Stockinger barrels in the new cellar.

The basic terroir of the La Orotava Valley on the North coast of the island revolves around the Listan Negro red wines from vines grown on the more Easterly aspects, with their heavier clay / sandy soil components. In the West, vineyards are dominated by sandy stony basaltic soils which have proved more suitable for white varieties, primarily Listan Blanco, otherwise known as Palomino Fino.

 

As the El Esquilon Estate of Suertes del Marques sits in the middle of the La Orotava Valley, approximately 80% of the vineyards are planted to red varieties and 20% to white, with lower slopes dominated by loamy clay and the higher slopes basaltic sandy loam. Their main grape Listan Negro is a cross between Listan Blanco (Palomino fino) and Tinta Negro Mole, a variety better know in Madeira.

 

Tasting 2018s from barrel with owner Jonatan in the new cellar.

New 2017 Vintage Tasting:

Suertes del Marques La Floridita 2018, 12.5 Abv.

Pale cherry red, this wine is still very reductive but shows delicious strawberry pith and raspberry fruit underneath with a smokey basaltic mineral core.

(Wine Safari Score: 87/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Suertes del Marques Suertes Cool 2018, 11.5 Abv. (NatCool presented in the 1 Litre bottle)

Listan Negro from 450m mid-slope vineyards. This new addition to the NatCool international offering shows a lovely fresh nose balancing crushed red berries, basalt minerality and bramble berry notes. Palate is sleek, ripe but noticeably lithe and elegant. Not challenging at all but retains wonderful complexity. A really pleasurable glassful best served slightly chilled.

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

 

Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes 2017, 13 Abv.

A fine Listan Negro parcel blend with the majority aged in concrete tanks. Jammed packed full of smokey volcanic minerality, strawberry and crushed raspberry fragrance, illustrating the plush elegance and accessible balance of the vintage. Sappy and fleshy, this red is already showing very well.

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

 

Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes El Lance 2017, 12.5 Abv.

Fine sappy nose with hints of whole bunch and resinous black berry crunch. Quite finely textured, harmonious balance and a chalky, mineral powder tannin finish. Very friendly wine with impressive mid-palate depth.

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

 

Suertes del Marques La Solana Listan Negro Vino de Parcela, 13 Abv.

Fresh sappy nose packed full of leafy bramble berry fruits, subtle hint of reduction and a basaltic mineral undertone. Finely embroidered texture, chalky dry tannins and a smokey graphite finish. Pop this in the cellar for 5 years.

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

 

Suertes del Marques Candio 2017 Listan Negro Vino de Parcela, 13.5 Abv.

Very attractive nose of red bramble berry fruits, lavender and crushed rose petals. Super elegant with a creamy texture embellished by a lick of classy oak spice. Really harmonious and balanced, this is a class act. Crack into these on release!

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

 

Suertes del Marques El Chibirique 2017 Listan Negro Vino de Parcel, 13 Abv.

Dark and broody nose, this shows railway yard reduction, coal smoke, blackberry confit and a sappy leafy complexing aromatic edge. Medium bodied, suave and elegant but noticeably more restrained and mineral in style with a graphite, stony bite on the finish. Still very youthful, this is one for the cellar.

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

 

Suertes del Marques El Esquilon 2016 Listan Negro Vino de Parcela, 12.5 Abv.

Rich opulent forward vintage showing plenty of verve and vigour. Displays a lovely melange of chalky, stony, basaltic mineral tannins and dense, concentrated black berry fruits. Lovely accessibility, classy balance but real drive and intensity. Very impressive cuvee.

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

 

Suertes del Marques El Ciruelo 2017 Listan Negro Vino de Parcela, 13 Abv.

100% Whole Bunch and foot trodden in concrete. This has a fabulously complex nose with just the right amount of complexing reduction, struck match and smokey, sappy black bramble berry fruit. Very youthful at the moment but this shows as much potential as the epic 2016 I reviewed recently. Such balance and class. Shows everything that’s great about premium Tenerife Listan Negro.

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

 

Suertes del Marques Los Pasitos 2017 Vino de Parcela, Baboso Negro. 12.5 Abv.

Lovely nose full of gun powder smoke, graphite and crushed bramble berries, wet leaves and sap. Crunchy and fresh with taut glassy acids and a tightly wound finish with fabulously polished tannins. Very serious.

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

 

Suertes del Marques Cruz Santa 2017 Vino de Parcela, Vijariego Negro, 12.5 Abv.

Grown on clay soils. Soft sweet sappy and cool with plenty of base and treble. Pure black chalky fruits, fine minerailty, sweet and sour black plum hints and finely polished, tight grained tannins. Wow! Not a wine / cuvee I know very well but this is very impressive indeed.

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

 

Suertes del Marques Vidonia 2017 Listan Blanco Vino de Parcela, 12.5 Abv.

Alluring aromatics of white citrus, wet chalk, crushed green apples and pear purée. Lovely pure smokey note balanced by sweet quince, white peach and a spicy, lemon and herb complexity. Creamy and cool on the palate, this Listan Blanco parcela wine shows a lot of similarities to a fine slightly reductive white Burgundy. Really delicious but also quite a serious glassful!

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

Tasting Vidonia Parcela Listan Blanco 2018 from barrel.

 

Suertes del Marques Trenzado Listan Blanco, 12.5 Abv.

This Listan Blanco 6 parcel blend reveals a more lifted, exotic, fragrant nose than Vidonia brimming with yellow citrus pastille, waxy lemon peel, struck match reduction, maritime salinity and a wet chalk mineral note. Lovely fleshy concentration and depth with real class and complexity. Not quite the same textural delineation as Vidonia but wow, this wine packs a punch for a super price!

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

 

Looking South up the hill behind the winery.

Looking north down past La Orotava to Puerto de la Cruz.

The Suertes del Marques wines are imported into the UK by Indigo Wines.

Tasting the New Gabrielskloof Landscape Series Cabernet Franc 2017 Pre-Release…

You wait for a bus for hours and then suddenly a whole tranche of them come along all at once. This is what the past few days have felt like with Cabernet Franc from South Africa. Within a matter of days, I had tasted the new Warwick Cabernet Franc 2015, the iconic Raats Family Cabernet Franc 2015, the Raats Dolomite 2016 (and sensational 5 Star Platter winner), and also the delicious new 2017 vintage from Gabrielskloof in the Bot River … due for release on the 1st April 2019.

I vividly remember reviewing the 2015 vintage a couple of years back after winemaker Peter-Allan Finlayson had given me a “clean skin” sample to taste. Of course it was a very impressive wine from a stellar red vintage and many months later, unsurprisingly, the 2015 Gabrielskloof Cabernet Franc made it into Tim Atkin MW’s South Africa Report as his “Red Wine Discovery of the Year.” The 2017 comes from the same Cabernet Franc vineyard in the Bot River region.

Tasting with Peter-Allan recently in London.

In this third consecutive drought vintage, Peter-Allan decided to do less extraction during fermentation with 20% whole bunches, so using only three pump overs (remontage) during active fermentation and thereafter a longer 23 day post-fermentation maceration followed by ageing the wine in larger 500 litre oak barrels to retain freshness and fruit expression.

Gabrielskloof The Landscape Series Cabernet Franc 2017, WO Bot River, 14.1 Abv.

Made using fruit from 16 year old vines, the 2017 has a very attractive nose displaying a super complex perfumery of black berry, tart cassis, milk chocolate and cherry liquor. Beautifully complex wine expertly balancing piercing violet fragrance and sweet sappy cedar spice with hints of boxwood, spiced meats, melted wax and eastern incense. On the palate one is struck by the wine’s lithe, sleek mid-weight silky balance, delicious blueberry and oak spice harmony together with nuances of sweet dried herbs, plum spice, another last dusting of mocha choc spice and a very fine, long, fresh lingering piquant finish. A thoroughly confident, vibrant expression of Cabernet Franc expertly delivered in a vintage shaping up to be another very impressive high quality year for both reds and whites. Drink from 2019 to 2030+.

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

(Wines are distributed to the trade in the UK by Liberty Wines)

Sassicaia 2016 – A Legendary Red Wine in the Making…

One of the great things about Sassicaia new releases is that every year you get to taste the new wine alongside the estate’s Guidalberto and the Le Difese cuvees, both from the subsequent vintage. Last year, while tasting the incredibly fine Sassicaia 2015, it was the Guidalberto 2016 that really turned heads and got tongues wagging. If the unofficial second wine is this good, what could we expect from Sassicaia 2016 itself!?

 

So after 12 months of waiting, we recently got to taste the new Sassicaia 2016 release in London. Rather unusually, the wine had already been tasted and rated 100 points by The Wine Advocate’s Italian reviewer, Monica Larner, which as can be expected, set the fine wine trade fully ablaze and sent merchants into a vinous frenzy as they ventured to secure precious allocations. Also, the fact that Monica Larner had scored the 2015 Sassicaia the same as I had at 97/100 merely served to further increase my own personal interest in the new release.

 

What can be confirmed is that both 2015 and 2016 are certainly two of the best back to back vintages anyone can remember in Tuscany. The 2010 Bolgheri reds were fantastically good and the 2013’s were also very memorable, but neither vintage was as highly anticipated as either the 2015 or 2016 releases. Hype can make vintages seem even better than they are, but in this case, these two back to back 5 star vintages seem to be fully grounded around their exceptional quality in the bottle.

 

Tasting the Sassicaia 2016 with Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta in London.

Both vintages saw long hot summers that encouraged vigorous vine growth. In 2015, a cold and rainy winter preceded an irregular spring followed by exceptionally hot, dry summer weather, creating small bunches of grapes, leading to reduced yields across the region, exacerbated by several violent August hailstorms, although concentration levels are very good. 2016 was another very good vintage in Tuscany which produced wines with deep colour, piercing freshness and impressive fragrance. However, yields across the region were again down by up to -20% compared to the average and at Sassicaia, their own yields were down at least -10%, which was reflected in merchant’s final bottle wine allocations.

 

Will the 2016 with is sublime fruit purity, linear tension and taught acid freshness live up to the legendary status of the 1985? Who knows? All that is certain is that it is an incredibly fine Sassicaia expression and possibly one of the best young Sassicaia releases I have ever tasted. Buy some, age it and if you are lucky, it will turn out to be a wine to rival the 1985 in cult status.

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese de Sassicaia 2017, IGT Toscana

As usual, the le Difese blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Sangiovese delivers an incredible level of complexity and vinous pleasure for the price. The 2017 is a slightly opaque plum ruby red and offers up a fine aromatic melange of red cherries, melted tar, sweet baking spices, red plum confit, red liquorice and a piquant high note. Texturally the palate is bold and full, deliciously fleshy and plump with a glycerol weight that rolls around the mouth. Acids are sappy and fresh enlivening the sweet red fruit flavours of sun raisined red plum, sweet red cherry, aniseed and liquorice stick. Another classy, thoroughly delicious, opulent rendition of this Tuscan favourite. Drink now to 2025+.  

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

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2017, IGT Toscana (Barrel Sample)

T he 2017 Guidalberto blend is made up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot and has an alluring dark black plum colour. Like the le Difese 2017, there are attractive aromatic nuances of exotic grilled herbs and sweet dried spices that flow from the glass in a most seductive manner with layers of spicy red plum, pithy red cherry, incense, lipstick, graphite and a fabulous mineral undertone. The palate is super precise and sleek with a creamy, fleshy, harmonious concentration of sweet red cherries, bramble berries, plum skins and crushed limestone that is neatly and concisely supported by suave chalky dry tannins and a sappy, leafy sweet and sour acidity. The noteworthy power and intensity is offered up in a very approachable style but as always, suggests ageing this wine further will bring even greater textural harmony and with it enhanced drinking pleasure. Drink now to 2030+.  

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2016, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana

After tasting the super impressive Guidalberto 2016 last year, the anticipation for the release of the 2016 Sassicaia started building from that point for a full 12 months! The wine sticks to the classical blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc and offers up a cornucopia of perfumed aromatics of sweet red crystallised cherries, red bramble berries, dried herbs, sage, sweet cedar and a subtle menthol red peppercorn exoticism. Fabulously complex, the 2016 unfurls in the glass in the manner of a young Grand Cru Cotes de Nuits Burgundy overpowering the senses with a seamless, integrated harmonious concentration. Effortlessly classy, sublimely opulent and intense but also treads so lightly. The 2016 picks up precisely where the epic 2015 let off but adds a few extra dimensions of textural finesse and intensity without ever being overtly glossy. Very impressive effort indeed. Another expression that will undoubtedly be compared to the now iconic 1985 Sassicaia. Will it live up to those proven 100 point heights? Only time will tell but it looks a sure bet if ever there was one! Drink from 2022 to 2045+.  

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

Wines distributed to the UK trade through Armit Wines.

Sylvain Dittiere Saumur – Champigny La Porte Saint Jean – The New Clos Rougeard??

It’s a dialogue I am hearing more and more frequently. Clos Rougeard? No thanks, the prices are ridiculous now. Indeed, other than a few premium restaurants, I don’t know many merchants that actually took their allocations of the 2013 new release wines last year. 

Nowadays, there are certainly a few contenders to the Cabernet Franc throne… like Antoine Sanzay, who shares a link to the Foucault family and cultivates a bigger part of the Poyeaux site. Domaine de Collier of course, Guiberteau as well. But for me, and also for Loire aficionado Jim Budd, the estate most in the spiritual mould of the old Clos Rougeard estate, is La Porte St Jean, run by Sylvain Dittiere, the son in law of Charlie and Francoise Foucault.

To quote Jim Budd… “I fancy that Charly Foucault would feel more at home here at La Porte Saint Jean than at Clos Rougeard now that it has been bought by Martin Bouygues. While I was with Sylvain, Pauline and Francoise Foucault, visiting Sylvain, I felt a strong sense that Charlie’s esprit lives on here”.

The Domaine covers 8.5ha around Montrueil-Bellay where Sylvain cultivates his plots with huge dedication. He makes two whites, Saut-Mignon (Sauvignon Blanc) and La Perlée (usually in Saumur but more frequently in Vin de France designation). These are made from 60 to 90 years old Chenin Blanc. 

His red Saumur cuvées, Les Cormiers and Porte St Jean are matured for 18-24 months in barrel in an ancient limestone cellar from the 16 century. Long elevage is a staple of the style here and the wines are built to last. Sylvain served an extensive apprenticeship before setting up La Porte Saint Jean with stints at Thierry Germain, Gerard Gauby, Marc Tempe, and (of course) the Foucault brothers at Clos Rougeard.

Sylvain Dittiere La Porte Saint Jean 2016 Rouge, Saumur-Champigny AOC, 12.5 Abv.

A vintage that only recently arrived in the UK, it shows a dense, dark, intense purple plum colour. Initially when opened, it was very tight, dark fruited, broody and quite reductive with cassis and struck match spice intermingling with notes of lead pencil, cedar, graphite and sweet leaf. But a few hours in a decanter, and this wine has started to shed its protective layers of armour to reveal a modest glimpse of where this wine will possibly be in 5 to 8 years time. The aromatics are elegant and floral with intriguingly complex notes of grilled herbs, smoked meats, carpaccio, cassis leaf and the most incredibly intense red cherry fruit concentration. The palate too is dense and broody, but incredibly precise and focused, slowly loosening its linear grip to show very elegant fine tannins, delicious vibrant tart red cherry acids, iodine, salty brine, tart cassis and a fantastically cool, smooth elegant persistence. Wow, there is a whole lot of wine in this bottle. Still fantastically youthful, this wine oozes tension, energy, passion and artisanal blood, sweat and tears. A truly remarkable wine that just keeps on opening up revealing more and more nuances the longer it spends in the glass. This is noble Loire Cabernet Franc at its very best.

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