Some high-end wines from Cramele Recas, Romania

Philip Cox is the man behind Cramele Recas, an incredibly smart, adept, market-sensitive Romanian winery. They sell 24 million bottles a year under a whopping 247 different labels, and they specialise in well-made affordable supermarket wines. But they also make some more premium offerings, and I got to try a few of these. Here are my notes.

Regno Recas Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Recas, Romania
12.5% alcohol. Youthful and primary with crisp, clean pear drop and citrus fruit. Very attractive clean fruity style, but not a lot of personality. It’s varietally true though. 87/100

Solo Quinta 2018 Recas, Romania
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Feteasca Regala. 13% alcohol. Aromatic and grapey, with rich table grape, mandarin, fennel and spice flavours. This has some richness, and a bit of tropical exoticism, but everything is kept in check by a nice citrus drive. Lots of flavour here. Dry but exotic and generous. 90/100 (£19 from Turton Wines in the UK)

Solevari Reserve Feteasca Regalia 2018 Recas, Romania
12% alcohol. This is really expressive: it’s grapey and floral, with some baked apple character and a fine spiciness. There’s some tangerine, too. Very fruity and grapey. Quite delicious. 90/100 (the Solevari wines are available in the UK from Virgin Wines at £11.99)

Solevari Reserve Feteasca Neagra 2018 Recas, Romania
13.5% alcohol. There’s a creamy edge to the floral fruity nose, and then the palate has direct, vivid raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s a slightly savoury, clove-like spicy edge to the fruit that reminds me a bit of staves, but the fruit quality is lovely. 89/100

Solevari Reserva Pinot Noir 2017 Recas, Romania
13.5% alcohol. Sweet, floral cherry and raspberry nose leads to a lush, smooth palate showing sweet berry fruits and hints of coffee, tar and cedar. Nice fruit, but the meaty, cedary savouriness intrudes a little. 88/100

Selene Merlot Reserva 2017 Recas, Romania
14.5% alcohol. Dense, ripe, chewy and spicy, with concentrated ripe blackberry and black cherry fruit, with a savoury, cedary edge. Rich and with lovely fruit, but the clove, cedar and coffee from the oak are a bit intrusive. And it is very rich and ripe. A really ambitious wine. 86/100 (Tanners carry the Cabernet Sauvignon at £16.30)


Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2013

I was excited to try this new 2013 Blanc de Blancs from leading English sparkling wine producer Nyetimber, because it is the first vintage to feature wine from their Hampshire vineyards (30%), which have chalk soils (in addition to the Sussex greensand vineyards they began with, which make up 70% of the blend).

The Chardonnay grapes were pressed and settled, and then 97% was fermented in stainless steel, and 3% in new French oak. Full malolactic fermentation. Five years on lees, and then has 9.5 g/l dosage.

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2013 England
This wine has generosity and precision at the same time, with keen but well integrated acidity underpinning the ripe citrus, pear and apple fruit. There’s some bready, toasty richness, but it doesn’t obscure the fine, well structured fruit. There’s a very slight buttery, creamy richness, presumably from the malolactic fermentation, and then a long, tapering finish with lovely lemony fruit, and table grape and nectarine richness. Drinking beautifully now, this wine is really harmonious and nicely poised. 93/100

Champagne highlights (2)

These bottles were all drunk on the trip. Some great discoveries here – these are all from smaller growers.

Champagne Emmanuel Brochet Le Mont Benoit Extra Brut NV France
Emmanuel Brochet farms 2.5 hectares with an average vine age of 35 years, working organically. He began in 1997, and all his wines are pressed with a Cocquard basket press and then vinified in wood. This spends 11 months in wood, and is a blend of roughly equal parts of all the three main varieties. It is bottled with 20% reserve wine and spends two years on its lees, and then has 4 g/l dosage. This is very fine, with an expressive nose of almonds, toast, citrus and a touch of wax. The palate is fruity and fine with red cherries, lemons and some tangerine. Very pure and linear with amazing precision and a real energy. Thrilling. 96/100

Champagne Remi Leroy Brut Nature NV France
The family have 9 hectares in the Aube on Portlandian limestone over Kimmeridgean limestone, and Remi has 3 hectares of these for his own lable, while they sell the rest. Most of the holdings (70%) are Pinot Noir. This wine is matured in 85% stainless steel, 15% oak, and then it spends three years on its lees. Disgorged May 2018, 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Delicate, vital and electric with lovely focused citrus and cherry fruit with very fine bready, toasty notes and keen acidity. The acid line is fresh and vital, with some salty, chalky notes and amazing presence. 95/100

Champagne Etienne Calsac Les Rocheforts Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru NV France
This is from a parcel in Bisseuil premier cru that is especially calcareous, and it undergoes full malolactic fermentation. Base vintage is 2015 and it was disgorged in 2018. Delicate and vinous with lovely precision to the sweet crystalline citrus fruit, with a hint of apple. There’s a crispness and focus on the finish with an expansion, and some grip. Amazing delicacy and finesse with the acid and the structure just so precise. Some almond notes, too, with a hint of sweetness on the mid-palate and some chalky grip on the end. 93/100

Champagne Marie-Noelle Ledru Grand Cru Extra Brut Ambonnay NV France
This is so complex, with cherry and cranberry notes from the Pinot Noir (85%) but then it morphs into bright citrus fruit, and a complex, precise finish. There is also some development and some oxidative hints. A thrilling wine that finishes with precision. 95/100

Champagne Rochet Bocart Brut Nature 1er Cru Vaudemonge 2006 France
A premier cru from the Montagne de Reims. Taut, complex and focused with fine toast and spice, and lovely precision, showing lemons, some pear and compact fruit. Real precision and focus here. 94/100

Champagne Françoise Bedel Origin’elle NV France
Based on 2010 vintage, this is 90% Pinot Meunier and 10% Pinot Noir, five years on the lees, disgorged October 2016. Focused and rich at the same time with apple and pear and a bit of citrus. Nice focus and weight with some citrus peel notes. Fruity with some baked apple, cherry and toast: a broad style. 92/100

Champagne Barrat Masson Cuvée Fleur de Craie Extra Brut 2015 France
No dosage, disgorged November 2018 , from 40 year old vines on chalky soils. Aurélie and Loïc are the team behind this wine: he took over the family farm and got rid of herbicides in 2005, and they have farmed their 7 hectares organically since 2009. They are in Villeneaux La Grand on the slopes of the Cezannais. This wine, 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, has a lovely delicacy with some sweet citrus, a touch of pear and some white peach. It’s very pure with amazing balance for a non-dose wine. Subtle and fine with nice focus and purity. 93/100

Find these wines with

Two nice Sauternes

I don’t drink enough Sauternes (or Barsac). No one does, which is why this – one of the world’s great wine styles – is relatively under appreciated. If you bought lots of top Sauternes en primeur a decade or two back, you’ll probably have lost money. If you’d bought top red Bordeaux, you’d have made some. I just tried a couple of nice examples, from half bottle.

Château Doisy-Védrines Sauternes Grand Cru Classé 2007 Bordeaux, France
This is actually a Barsac, but labelled as Sauternes. Full gold in colour, this is showing beautiful balance, with fresh apricot, honey, hay and citrus notes. It’s mouth-filling and sweet with some brioche and toast, but the focus is the pure fruit. Some conference pear mixed in with the apricot, as well as some passionfruit. Good weight and intensity, and still quite primary. Really nice. 94/100

Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1er Cru Classé Sauternes 2003 Bordeaux, France
From the very hot 2003 vintage, this is a deep gold with some bronze in colour. It’s viscous and powerful with intense marmalade, apricot and peach notes, as well as some table grape/raisin hints. There’s a lot of sweetness, and great concentration, finishing with brisk acidity and a spicy twist that keeps things balanced. A remarkable wine, that’s probably drinking at peak now, while there’s still some fresh fruit balancing out the savoury, spicy flavours. 94/100

Find these wines with

Some Champagne highlights (1)

So four and a bit days in Champagne, many wines tasted, quite a few drunk. Here are just a few of my highlights from a few of the producers I visited.

Champagne Leclerc Briant La Croisette Brut Zéro 2014 France
This is a new producer to me. We had a great visit. It’s a reborn biodynamic domaine (it was one of the pioneers of biodynamic viticulture in the region) and is now making very smart, distinctive wines with Herve Jestin as the winemaker. This is one of their top wines, from a single vineyard (0.5 hectares) in Epernay next to the house. It’s on top of a hill with some clay in the soil. It was planted by Bertrand Leclerc in the 1960s, after he had started his organic farming, so this vineyard has never seen any chemicals. 100% Chardonnay planted 1966. Low yield, vinified 10 months in oak, then three years on lees. 2014 vintage, disgorged summer 2018 with no dosage. Elegant, fine, toasty, mealy nose with some almond and citrus fruit. Structured and savoury on the palate, this is vinous: very much Burgundy in style, with nuts (almond and hazelnut), vanilla, spice and seamless citrus fruit with some pear and white peach richness. Profound stuff. 96/100

Champagne Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2012 France
Made only from Grand Cru vineyards, this wine was created by Hubert de Billy’s father in the 1950s to answer the demand for aperitif Champagne. It has six years minimum ageing, but in most cases is disgorged as late as possible, with a dosage of 8 g/litre. Refined subtly floral citrus fruit nose with some nuts and honeysuckle. Lovely precision on the palate with fine, delicate citrus fruit. Very fine toasty notes with some peachy richness, but the dominant theme is pure citrus notes. Incredible delicacy and precision, with just a touch of sweetness on the finish. 95/100

Champagne Fréderic Savart Les Noues Ecueil Premier Cru 2015 France
The grapes for this wine used to go into Ouverture, but it’s now a new cuvée, just 1362 bottles made. 100% Pinot Noir. Fine cherries, herbs and nuts on the nose, with a palate that shows detailed, fine citrus, pear and apple fruit with some lovely red cherry notes. This has incredible precision and detail, with fine savoury nut, almond and liquorice notes. Really detailed and fine. Expressive. 95/100

Champagne Pascal Agrapart Avizoise 2012 France
This comes from a vineyard with clay soils, which Pascal likens to the argile calcaire soils common in Burgundy. His three vintage wines have just 600 metres between the different parcels, and the age of the vines is similar – 50-60 years old – but the wines taste very different because of the soils. Vinification is just in barrel, 3 g/litre dosage. The second fermentation is under cork (as with his cuvée Vénus). This is so different to Vénus and Minerale, with perfumed almond and wax on the nose with apple and pear fruit. There are herbs with some nuts and peach, showing a rounded generosity, but also good acidity and focus. There’s so much complexity here, with richness and depth, but also nice focus. Thrilling. 95/100

Champagne Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée 2007 France
Laurent Champs kindly opened an older bottle of this wine, and it was fabulous. Disgorged May 2014, 8 g/l dosage. This is stunning. It is still fresh and focused, but there are layers of complexity here. Shows subtle toast and spice, with crystalline citrus fruit and a bit of white peach. Very precise with lots of citrus character, and keen acidity. Nervy, chalky and a bit saline. Compact and fine with great concentration. Subtle hints of cabbage and herbs. 96/100

Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 France
Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon describes this as ‘The Cristal of Cristals’, not because it is the best but because it is the archetype of Cristal. Launched 2009 before this, and this is now the current vintage. 2012 will be the next. 7.75 g/l dosage. 45 parcels, used 37 of them – disqualified eight parcels of Pinot Noir. 25% oak fermentation. ‘We didn’t see 2008 at the beginning.’ he says. Incredible aromatics here: very fine toast and bread notes, some lemon peel, and focused citrus fruit. It’s linear and focused on the palate with fine lemon notes, good acidity, a saline, chalky edge, and fine herbs and spice. There’s a really nice linear quality to this wine. It is brisk and a little austere, but it has harmony and the acidity is well integrated. Lovely mineral freshness and complexity from a long, dry, cool summer, and chalky soils. Light and elegant at the end. A thrilling wine. 96/100

In Reims

I’m spending a few days in Reims, in order to do some Champagne visits. It’s a lovely city to spend time in, and there are plenty of good options for eating and drinking well, and some great places to buy Champagne. It’s also insanely easy to get to by train from London: Eurostar to Paris, eight minute walk from Gare de Nord to Gare de l’Est, and then a 45 minute journey to Reims. Here are some pictures from a Sunday stroll.

Suertes del Marques, an amazing winegrower in Tenerife, Spain

Jonatan Garcia

Jonatan Garcia is the dude behind Suertes del Marques, one of Spain’s most exciting producers. They are based in the Orotava Valley, in the north of Tenerife. Jonatan’s father started buying vineyards here in 1986, and now they have 9 hectares of their own, two hectares that are rented, and they also buy from growers who have in total 17 hectares. They began making their own wines in 2006.

Looking out over the Orotava Valley to the sea

Viticulture in Tenerife goes back to the 15th century, and from the middle of the 16th century until the early 19th century this was the driver of the economy on the island. Wines were exported primarily to Britain, but also to north America and even Australia.

A film of the visit, where Jonatan introduces the project and we get to see the remarkable vineyards, with the Cordon Trenzado. One of them has 250 year old vines.


One of the distinctive things about the Orotava Valley is the training system used for the vines, called Cordon Trenzado. This looks very unusual: the cordon is formed of canes that have been twisted over each other. The shoots are then pruned to around four buds and then tied down by string, and the vine cordon effectively keeps growing, so that the old vines are as long as 10 metres.

The canes are tied down with string

As a result, these are low density vineyards, with around 400 vines per hectare. They are ungrafted, because phylloxera hasn’t got here, and are replaced by marcottage (laying down a cane into the soil so that it forms its own roots). But the risk here is one of trunk disease.

Basaltic soils in the west of the valley

The soils here vary a bit, but are volcanic in origin. Some of the more basaltic soils can have very low pH, and without the traditional application of lime, the vines can suffer. 95% of the fruit Jonatan uses is organic, and he has about 80% of the organic fruit from the region.

Generally speaking, in the eastern part of the valley the soils have more clay and are more fertile, and this is where Listan Negro is planted. In the west, they are more basaltic, and this is where Listan Blanco is planted. These are the two key grape varieties. They are supplemented by others, including Vijareigo Negro, Tintilla, Baboso Negro, Malvasia Rosado, Torrontes and Albillo Criollo.

Cordon Trenzado

The vines have an extremely long growing cycle here: perhaps the longest in the wine world? We were visiting in early March, and already the shoots were out in most of the vineyards. Most of these vines will be harvested in late September and October. In the north of Tenerife the weather doesn’t get too hot, and there’s often cloud cover because of the nearby volcano (Teide), which at 3800 m is the highest peak in Spain.

These are 250 year old vines

Jonatan has help in the cellar from consultant winemaker Luis Seabra. The winemaking here is what I’d call modern traditional, with a strong dose of natural. There’s lots of whole cluster and very little stainless steel. Fermentation is with wild yeasts in foudre or concrete, normally. Jonatan has 2500 and 4500 litre foudres (from Rousseau and Stockinger), and his barrels are almost all the larger 500 litre size. The early picking gives a leanness and precision to the wines, and the house style is one of mastery of reduction: for many of the wines, matchstick/mineral reduction is a key component, and it works really well.

Jonatan in the new cellar

Large format – Stockinger fudres

Concrete fermentation tanks

A film from the part held to celebrate opening the new cellar, with lots of other winegrowers in attendance:



All the whites are made the same way. The grapes are destemmed and then pressed, the juice is allowed to settle for two days, and then goes to barrel or foudres to ferment, and the wine is kept on full lees during ageing.

Suertes del Marques Trenzado 2017 Tenerife, Spain
From the west part of the Orotava Valley, which has more basalt and less clay, and six different vineyards. One is matured in a 4500 litre foudre, two in 2500 litre foudres, and three in 500 litre barrels. This is fresh and fine with nice reductive minerality. Lemons, minerals a touch of wax, and such precision and finesse. 93/100

Suertes del Marques Vidonia 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Listan Blanco from clay soils in the middle of the Orotava Valley. 11 months in barrel. Lovely focus and elegance here, showing fine citrus fruit and a hint of wax, with lovely finesse. Has a rounded mouthfeel but also lively acidity (pH 2.9). Thrilling stuff. 94/100

Suertes del Marques Nat Cool 2017 Tenerife, Spain
11.5% alcohol. Listan Negro, destemmed, fermented and aged in concrete, bottled in a 1 litre bottle. Taut reductive nose with red cherries, spice and minerals. The palate is very fresh with appealing raspberry fruit. Good reduction here and a slightly grippy finish. Very Nat Cool. 93/100

Suertes del Marques La Floridita 2018 Tenerife, Spain
This is Listan Negro which spends 4 days in a concrete tank, and is then pressed. Fermentation continues in 500 litre barrels. The idea is to make a very fruity red that’s easy to drink. Pale in colour, this is sappy and fresh, with compact cherry fruit and a bit of reduction. There are some green leafy hints, and it’s a pretty elegant wine. 91/100

Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes 2016 Tenerife, Spain
Red cherries, spice and some sappiness on the nose. The palate is supple, elegant and refined with lovely texture. Such a bright wine. 93/100

Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Very fine and supple with a slight seaweed edge to the bright, linear red fruits. Expressive, with a bit of tannic grip. Beautiful balance here. 93/100

Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes El Lance 2016 Tenerife, Spain
Light and expressive with juicy fruit. Nice tannins here with elegance and purity. Light, grainy and expressive. 93/100

Suertes del Marques 7 Fuentes El Lance 2017 Tenerife, Spain
A blend of five varieties. This has some flesh with nice weight to the compact cherry and raspberry fruit. There’s nice concentration and detail, as well as some sappy character. It’s astonishingly drinkable and delicious. 94/100

Suertes del Marques La Solana 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Varietal Listan Negro, fermented with 50% whole bunch in concrete, then it spends a year in a 4500 litre foudre. Very fine with nice grip and precision, showing red cherries, spices and some nice reduction. Good structure with a compact finish. 94/100

Suertes del Marques Candio 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Aged in 500 litre barrels. Very fine and expressive with raspberry and red cherry fruit. Nice structure and purity with freshness and detail. Has some herbs and spice, too: really elegant. 95/100

Suertes del Marques El Chibirique 2016 Tenerife, Spain
Sappy and elegant with red cherries, herbs and some spice. Lovely focus here withfine red fruits, herbs and real elegance. Lovely structure. 95/100

Suertes del Marques El Chibirique 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Whole bunch fermentation in concrete tank, then aged in 500 litre barrels. Very fine, sappy, floral red fruits nose. The palate is fresh and structured with precision and elegance. Red cherry and raspberry fruit with good structure. This has both structure and finesse and it’s brilliant. 95/100

Suertes del Marques El Esquilón 2016 Tenerife, Spain
Listan Negro. Whole bunch fermentation in concrete then ageing in used barrel. Very peppery, fine, leafy and expressive with light red fruits. Has tension, elegance and precision. 94/100

Suertes del Marques El Ciruleo 2016 Tenerife, Spain
Whole bunch, sandy soils. Sappy and elegant with red cherries, herbs and some spice. Lovely focus: shows fine red fruits, herbs and real elegance, as well as some structure. 95/100

Suertes del Marques El Ciruleo 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Listan Negro, from over 100 year old vines, 480-520 m altitude. Whole bunch. Supple with some reduction and direct cherry and raspberry fruit. Some peppery notes. Fine and pure with finesse. The reduction is quite marked right now, but in a year or two this will be singing. 95/100

Suertes del Marques Cruz Santa 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Baboso Negro. Whole-bunch fermentation in a plastic vat. Fine, pure and elegant with sappy red fruits, nice structure and good acidity. Bright and pure; elegant and fine. 94/100

Suertes del Marques Los Pasitos 2017 Tenerife, Spain
Baboso Negro. Supple and leafy with nice wax, orange peel and spice, as well as cherries and plums. So elegant and fine with nice detail and precision. 95/100

We visited the new cellar to taste 2018s from barrel. This was a good year for ripeness and acidity. Each year Jonatan makes some 17 wines from around 55 different cuvées.

  • Vidonia
    Clay soils. Still fermenting. Lively (pH 2.9) and expressive. Mineral.
  • Amagoge vineyard
    This is a blend of different grapes from the Taganan area. Rich, mineral and rounded with lively acidity. This is an area with more volume (in terms of richness of flavour). This is still fermenting.
  • Fefe Suertes
    Same soils as Vidonia: clay. Listan Branco. Proper mineral reduction: lively and expressive with some pith notes and also a vinyl hint.
  • FJM
    A co-ferment of three vineyards, clay soils. Beautifully taut and mineral with amazing precision and good acidity.
  • Torrontes
    This is not the same as the Argentine grape, but it’s from Madeira. It used to be called Pedro Ximenez here, but it isn’t. Very mineral and taut with great acidity. Characterful.
  • Piñera and Brezos
    2500 litre Stockinger foudre. Still has 5 g/l sugar. Textured, powerful and mineral, and very fine.
  • Cruz Santa
    Out west in the valley on basaltic soils: goes into Trenzado. Taut, lemony and mineral with fine spiciness and some herby notes. Very distinctive.
  • Parajes Oueste
    Five small growers from the west provide this fruit which is cofermented. Very spicy and lemony with lots of fruit. This has some pear and spice. Distinctive.
  • Bucarón
    Rented vineyard in the west, Listan Branco. ‘I am in love with this vineyard,’ says Jonatan. This ends up in Trenzado. Tight and fine; mineral and focused. Lovely.

Next we went through the vineyards for 7 Fuentes, starting with the simplest, most fruity wines.

  • Fefe
    Listan Negro from clay. Destemmed. Smoky, spicy edge to the nose. Lively, tangy, spicy and vivid with red cherry fruit. Nice brightness. Juicy, fine and fruity.
  • Habanera
    To the east, from clay/sandy soils, fermented in concrete, 20% whole bunch. Nice, fresh, lively and bright with raspberry and cherry fruit, and mineral framing.
  • La Florida
    East part of Orotava, mostly clay soils. First sample sappy and fine with nice detail and some flesh. Second sample from a plastic vat fermentation has lovely raspberry and cherry fruit with minerals and flesh. Third sample from whole bunch in plastic vats is elegant and sappy with lovely perfume, fine spices and real elegance, with a salty finish.
  • Pencones and a bit of Fefe
    This is a clay terrace low down in the middle of the valley. 20% whole bunch. Very reductive with mineral spiciness and nice fruit.
  • Chano
    More sandy soil, destemmed. Tight and mineral with nice grip. Vivid red fruits.
  • Hacienda Las Cañas
    250 year old vines, some of the oldest in the world. Rented. Bright, focused acidity. Sappy notes. 30% whole bunch shows. Concentrated wine.
  • Diego
    A co-ferment of Listan Negro (to decrease pH) and Tintilla. Supple and bright with some dark fruit and some grippiness.

Single vineyards

  • Chibirique
    Tight and reductive with nice grip. Serious wine.
  • La Solana
    Lovely mineral quality with fine, taut, spicy red fruits, and some pepper.
  • Candio
    West facing, clay soil. Grippy and quite structured with vivid red fruits and some richness, but also a linear, peppery finish. Has some ripeness.
  • Esquilion
    Sandy soil, planted E-W, 100% whole bunch. Has fleshiness and brightness with a nice mid palate and a peppery edge.
  • El Ciruleo
    North-facing vineyard planted N-S. Lots of elegance and finesse with spicy cherry and plum fruit, firm tannins and good acidity.
  • Los Pasitos
    Baboso Negro which can get overripe fast. Spicy, sappy and fresh with nice green notes, and pepper and herbs. Dictinctive.

Find these wines with

UK importer: Indigo Wines

Some nice wines from specialist importer Tiger Vines

A while back I had a chance to try some wines from specialist importer Tiger Vines, which I wrote up here. I recently caught up with James Thomas again, and he was showing the following wines. These are my notes: some real gems here.

Domaine de la Roche Bleue Jasnieres 2016 Loire, France
Organic, 13% alcohol. Sebastien Corneille. Stony, detailed and complex with lively citrus fruit and some apple notes. Nice precision here with lovely mineral detail. Dry, textured and mineral with a linear drive. Quite serious. 93/100

L&C Poitout Petit Chablis Sycomore 2017 Burgundy, France
Full and quite intense with nice pear and white peach fruit, with richness but also a nice stony, mineral core. This is so lively and multidimensional and transposes the appellation. Delicious but also with some seriousness. 92/100

Storm Notary Public White 2014 Santa Ynez Valley, California
60% Sauvignon, 40% Chenin Blanc, 13.5% alcohol. This is supple and mineral with lovely balance. It has citrus core with some fresh, but full flavoured and generously textured, with a grainy, fleshy, supple finish. Lots of detail and focus here. 93/100

Champagne Mouzon Leroux L’Atavique NV
Mostly 2013, with 2012 and 2011. All Grand Cru, with lots of silex in the soils. Complex and pure with some cherry and citrus fruit, and nice open, generosity. Has crispness and focus with great balance. Linear with a nice citrus finish. So good. 93/100

Vaquer Blanc de Blancs 1991 Vin de Pays Catalan, France
Nutty, mature, appley on the nose. Waxy, herby and mature on the palate with nice depth. Has richness and it’s still alive. 91/100

Fernand Vaquer Rouge 1986 Vin de Pays Catalan
Grainy and detailed with nice fresh raspberry fruit, despite its age. Nicely savoury with some herb, earth and spice notes. Has a delicious savouriness. This is in a nice place now. 92/100

Domaine de la Roche Bleue La Belle d’Aunis 2017 Loire, France
This is fresh, supple and juicy with nice raspberry and cherry fruit. Fine-grained and detailed with vivid, sappy, structured bright red fruits and a nice peppery edge. So supple and drinkable. 94/100

Storm Pinot Noir Duvarita Vineyard 2014 Santa Barbara County, California
Iron-rich sandy soils, biodynamically farmed, 20% whole cluster, older oak. Lovely vivid red and black cherry nose with some tea leaf detail. Ripe, sweet, textured palate with vivid raspberry and cherry fruit, with some depth and a long, sweet finish. Very fine. 94/100

La Baronne Pièce de Roche 2013 Corbières, France
Carignan planted in 1892. Tight, backward, grippy and savoury with some high acidity. Very lively and firmly structured with good density and firm tannins. Needs time: this is a backward, structured personality. 92/100

Arbe Garbe Bernandants Charbono Shypoke Vineyard 2016 Napa Valley, California
Rich, sweet and dense with ripe blackberry fruit with some coffee and spice notes. Rich and tannic but with nice sweet fruit and some Christmas cake hints and tea. Carries its 15% alcohol well. Very rich. 92/100

Il Padrino by Paul Lato Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard 2016 Santa Maria Valley, California
15% alcohol. Ripe, sweet and seductive with luscious blackberry and black cherry fruit. Very rich with a hint of chocolate and spice, and a smooth, seductive personality. Very rich and smooth with incredible concentration of ripe fruit. This is a wine in a certain style, but it’s very well made. Too rich and ripe for me, but I admire the skill and quality on show here. 93/100

Contact: Tiger Vines
James Thomas: 07540199908

Find these wines with

Flaws in wine? What about flaws in people?

As many readers know, my latest book was on wine faults. Titled Flawless, it examines the different wine faults one by one, and tries to put them in context. Ultimately, my goal in writing this book was to have a more nuanced debate on faults in wine, especially because many ‘fault’ compounds can be good in one context and bad in another, and the absence of faults doesn’t make a wine good or interesting.

But what about faults in people? This would make an interesting book. Maybe I have missed a trick here? We are all flawed, in many ways, but we strive to be good humans (well, at least most people do), and to be self-aware about our own flaws, and try to work on them a bit, at the same time realizing that while we’ll never be perfect, this doesn’t stop us being loveable.

So, here’s my take on a few human flaws, in no particular order. And this is by no means a complete list. Can you add any more?


This is at the core of most problems in any human interactions. To use a viticultural metaphor, it’s the trunk disease of the human soul. It’s a particularly corrosive fault, because it eats us up from the inside and diminishes our humanity, if we allow it to take root. The core problem with selfishness is how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. We behave selfishly because we think we are somehow better than those around us, and more deserving. Our interests come first, and we take more than we are entitled to.

We are probably all born a little selfish, but it’s a trait that we need to shed. Often, having children beats any residual selfishness out of us – at least, if we are good parents – because this forces selflessness on us. We have to give to our children, and the act of caring for them softens our heart (and tires us out), and we learn that it is truly better to give than to receive, and that we are not the centre of the universe. I think it’s the daily discipline of putting others’ interests first and saying no to selfishness that is the path to happiness. Allowing selfishness to take root in us and grow is certainly a path to great unhappiness and an inner deadness that will eventually consume us.

Jealousy is really really bad, and we must do all we can to avoid it. The moment we get a jealous thought, we need to kill it. Because, just as selfishness does so effectively, jealousy will eat us up, and do grave damage both to our state of mind and our close relationships.

This is the truth: you have been dealt a hand of cards, by your genetics, the date and place you were born, and the family environment you were born into. Some people get dealt a much nicer hand than others, and there’s nothing you can do to change this. But you must remember two things: you are not defined by those cards, and you can do a lot to change your fate and destiny – it is not fixed. There will always be people smarter than you and people richer than you and people more beautiful than you, and modern communication reminds you of this all the time. [In the past you could have been the smartest or prettiest in your village, but now everyone is comparing themselves on a global scale. It’s not very helpful.] But remember, also, that our society over-values certain traits, such a youth, success and a certain notion of attractiveness, and this is quite unhealthy. You need to remember that you are unique, and special, and that everyone is of equal value, no matter what society says. I think there are two antidotes to jealousy. The first is gratitude: being thankful for what we have. The second is to stop all these harmful comparisons with others. We need to celebrate our uniqueness. And when it comes to jealousy in romantic relationships, this has to be knocked on the head. Trust your partner. If they aren’t trustworthy, then leave them. [If you can; I know it’s not always possible.] But don’t be hyper-vigilant of their relationships and friendships with others, especially on social media. This can never end well.

Some people are generous. Other people are quite mean. And the amazing thing is that often people who are mean aren’t aware of it. Try being generous: it’s a much nicer way to live. It starts a flow: the more you give, the more resources you seem to have. That’s been my experience. Meanness often stems from a mindset of not having enough – a false idea that resources are somehow limited. It’s a mindset that seems to affect decision making more generally, and people who live in meanness are generally poor in business, and end up having loveless relationships. Their hearts are cold. Don’t be mean. Live generously. Give creatively. We can be prudent with our money and manage our finances well, but we must beware straying into meanness.

Do you find yourself judging other people? Are you very critical? Well, you should stop, of course, but there is something useful you can learn from dissecting your judgemental thoughts. Judge others gently, with lots of grace, because ultimately we would like to be judged gently in return. In truth, you cannot hope to know the internal state, motivations, or intentions of others, so you should refrain from being too critical of them. They might be under extreme pressure, or have had a brutal childhood, or just have had a very bad day. And don’t be one of those hate-filled people who join in Twitter mobs, attacking other people. It’s not very nice. What can we learn from our judgmental tendencies? Well, often, we are hardest on traits in others that we struggle with ourselves. Our judgemental thoughts are like a mirror: when you punish something in other people, are you subconsciously punishing yourself? It’s not always the case, but it often is.

We can’t be bright, optimistic and naively cheerful all the time. Satire is a very valuable form of comedy, for example. And it’s appropriate to be questioning and wordly wise. But there are some people who are bitterly cynical, and it gets a bit toxic after a while. Cynicism is a form of negativity, and like salt and pepper on your food, it’s good in small doses but spoils everything if you apply too much. Don’t let negativity and cynicism become your default position. Try to see the best in situations, and in other people. Think the best of others until you are proved wrong.

Entitlement is ugly, but feeling entitled can be an easy trap to fall into, especially if you are successful, or wealthy, or highly educated, or beautiful. You can begin to believe that you are special, and that you deserve more than others. More respect, more money, more resources. Entitled people think that other people are there to serve them. They think that queues are for losers. They expect the red carpet treatment. They think that the rules don’t apply to them. It’s not nice.

I guess greed is related to entitlement and selfishness. It’s the practical manifestation of these flaws, and the cause of many of the problems in the world today. Let’s slice the cake more evenly.

So many of these faults occur together, don’t they? A bit like wine faults. Narcissism is self-obsession, where we see ourselves as being at the centre of the universe, and where we find it very difficult to see things from the perspective of those around us – or even to care terribly much about the lives of others. Narcissistic people are often grandiose and entitled, and they aren’t all that nice to be around. The best way to deal with them is just to stroke their egos and keep them happy. Then everything is fine. If you are narcissistic, you probably don’t realize it, because as soon as people realize it they usually do something to stop it.

Egotism shares much in common with narcissism. Egotistical people see and feel everything as it relates to them. Many media people often have large egos because they are used to hearing others tell them how good they are. Egotistical people deal very badly with ageing because they can’t bear to think of a world without them. They fail to see that the world was doing fine before they were born, that they are here for a brief time, and that it doesn’t end well for any of us. We all age, and this is a normal part of life. And death is a normal part of life. We have to recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we live our life in seasons, that we take the baton and then pass it on to the next generation, and then we leave the stage. Watch the Lion King, egomaniacs: it’s the circle of life. Watching the way celebrities fight the ageing process by surgery and punishing exercise routines is a great display of the futility and ugliness of egotism. Egotistical people also hate challenges, and if you cross them (or they are under the impression that they have been crossed), they can be very vindictive. They need lots of stroking and badges of success to make them tolerable to be around.

Do you have a time machine? No. No one does. So stop dwelling in regret: it will freeze you and stop you moving forwards. The only regret that is allowed is the temporary state of regretting an action that then leads to positive change. Once an action is done, it can’t be undone, although it is possible to strive to ensure a regrettable action is not repeated. Many people, though, make their emotional home in regret and it becomes a prison from which it is hard to escape. If you are filled with regret, the antidote is to re-cast your narrative using the foundational truth that nothing is wasted. All the experiences you have had, good and bad, have helped forge the you of today. There’s a lovely Japanese term – kintsugi – referring to the way a pot is repaired with gold leaf. The broken pot is a work of art, and is very beautiful. Life is difficult and we have all faced challenges, and we will face many more in the future. We are like the broken pot: if we allow the troubles and pain to be redeemed by processing them in a healthy way, then we can be repaired – and as people we will ne richer and more beautiful than before.


Central Otago (11) Rockburn

The Gibbston vineyard

Dick Dunton, a heart surgeon from Dunedin, began what is now Rockburn when he planted a small vineyard in Lake Hayes back in 1991. He expanded this the following year by planting 10 hectares in Gibbston, and the winery was named Lake Hays. The core vineyard, 33 hectares in Pisa (called Parkburn) was added in 1996. The name was later changed to Rockburn, and these days there are two other co-owners as well as Dick.

Scott and Malcolm

I visited with winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis, who has been here since 2006, and assistant winemaker Scott Aliprandi. Before this, the wines were made by Rudi Bauer. They have a cellar door in Gibbston, but the wines are made in Cromwell.

The winery is on the Ripponvale Road in Cromwell, and they’ve been here since 2016. It was originally a freezing works for sheep processing. At one time this was a big employer in the region, but it closed in the mid 1990s. It was first identified as a potential winery by the ill-fated McArthur Ridge outfit, which was supposed to be the biggest Pinot Noir vineyard development in the world. This ticked all the boxes for them. It was big enough to be a thousand ton winery (they had big plans), and it had town supply water and consent for putting trade waste into the town sewerage. So between 2006 and 2008 they bought it, gutted it and began converting it. But then along came the GFC, and they had no route to market, and the wheels came off. It changed hands a few more times until one of the Rockburn directors spotted it and they bought it.

As well as the grapes from their own 30 hectares of vines, they buy in 60% of their tonnage. ‘More and more of the fruit in Central Otago is spoken for,’ says Malcolm. ‘The spot market has dried up.’ He says that a lot of Pinot Noir from the region goes north to Marlborough. ‘We’re currently struggling to find enough fruit to satisfy what the market wants from us,’ he says. ‘If we could find another 50 tons of Pinot Noir and 20 tons of Pinot Gris we’d be happier. For Devil’s staircase we are sniffing around for Marlborough Pinot Noir, either to blend in 15% or to drop the Central Otago label and go South Island.’

Malcolm first came to the region in 2000 and began working in the vineyards at Felton Road. He became assistant winemaker there in 2002, and in 2006 moved to Rockburn. ‘Initially I did everything by the numbers,’ he recalls. ‘I used enzymes and a lot of punchdowns. Now I use no enzymes and do less punching down.’ At Rockburn he doesn’t get the tannins he did at Felton Road, so leaves the wine on the skins for longer. ‘I leave it for three weeks at least or I just get a slightly obnoxious raspberry Pinot, and even if I put it in barrel for a year it just tastes of raspberries.’

He’s moved away from adding yeast. ‘When we moved out here I inoculated everything,’ he says. ‘I had no idea what might be out here.’ In 2018 he tried wild ferments with the Pinot Noirs for the first time, and they were fine.

Central Otago has an interesting situation with pH. The analysis at picking can be fine, but then during the Pinot Noir ferments it seems to be normal for the pH to rise significantly. This makes acid addition quite routine here, even among low-fi wine producers. ‘I don’t think nearly enough work has been done on our pH situation in Central Otago,’ says Malcolm. It doesn’t happen in every place around the world: it seems to be a particular problem in Central Otago.’

‘For the first couple of years I was very careful, but you get to learn a site and what you can get away with and what you can’t. I’m trying to be far more responsive to the terroir.’

The Parkburn Pinots have a pH in the high 3.7s, but the Gibbston ones are 3.6 without adjustment. Malcom is picking a bit earlier these days, and finds that you get fewer shifts in pH. ‘In the past it was live or die by pH 3.6, but I don’t worry so much about this any more. I’ve had some great Pinots at pH 3.8.’ He speculates that when you pick later there might be some translocation of potassium from the leaves into the fruit, which could cause the acid loss during fermentation.

The style of wines here is quite rich. ‘There seems to be a big demand for really big Pinot Noir out there,’ says Malcolm. I asked him whether he is meeting that demand: ‘I’m taking their money,’ he replied.

I tried some barrel samples from the 2018 Pinot Noir from the Parkburn vineyard. Malcolm says that Parkburn, an alluvial terrace left behind by a glacier, makes wines that can be too drinkable. ‘I have to try to make the wines more serious,’ he says.

  • Clone 5 – this is direct, structured and really vivid with nice weight. It’s full flavoured, ripe, sweetly fruited and plush.
  • Clone 6 – He did more extraction here, and 25% whole bunch. There are some sappy stemmy notes from the whole bunch, and sweet, silky, layered fruit. Nice finesse.
  • Clone 115 – Direct, juicy and vivid with freshness and some stoniness. Has pure fruit.
  • Clone Abel – Fresh, vivid and grippy with some spiciness. Bright and nicely structured with some brightness and some herby hints. Crunchy.
  • Clone 667 and 115, in a Mercurey barrel – big with lots of fruit and some whole bunch character. Grippy and structural.
  • Clone 10/5 – This always gets picked last. Rich and sweetly fruited. Bold and generous with some structure but also lush fruit. Opulent.
  • Clones 5 & 6 from Gibbston – this is sappy and vivid with nice purity. Has supple fruit and some nice sour cherry.

Malcolm is keen on clone 10/5. He was previously at Felton Road, and got to work with it quite a bit with it there. He’s also fond of Abel. ‘We are planting it seriously,’ he says. ‘I like the potential of it.’ Abel gives good structure, and as Parkburn doesn’t give a lot of grip, he thinks Abel can help. He says that the Dijon clones tend to be pretty, but they don’t give him much more than that.

Rockburn Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Barrel fermented with wild yeasts. From Parkburn. Fresh and vivid with bright pear and apple fruit. Nicely focused and a bit crystalline. Good depth and intensity here. 90/100

Rockburn Fumé Blanc 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Spends 18 months in barrel, 10% new oak. Fig, pear and pea on the nose. Some grapefruit, too. There’s a nice concentration on the palate which shows a bit of spice. There’s a pea/green pepper edge to this wine. Intriguing. 89/100

Rockburn Pinot Gris 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
From Gibbston. Lovely concentration and flavour intensity here with table grape, pear and spice notes. Fruity and inviting with just a hint of sweetness (4 g/litre) and a fine spicy finish. Lovely weight. 91/100

Rockburn Tigermoth Riesling 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
From Parkburn. 67 g/l sugar. 10 g TA, pH 2.9. This is vivid and intense with the sweetness countering high levels of acidity. Juicy, citrussy and intense with nice sweetness. Direct and lemony with some melony richness. Very pure and direct. Lots of flavour here. 92/100

Rockburn Stolen Kiss Rosé 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
Saignee method, taking 200-300 litres from each ferment. Rich and sweet (22 g/l sugar) with balancing freshness. Nice pale colour. Textured and direct with an approachable, seductive personality. 88/100

Rockburn Devil’s Staircase Blanc de Noir 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh, dry and supple with nice focus, a hint of creaminess, and some lovey sappy, supple pear and cherry fruit. Very pale in colour, and nicely elegant. 90/100

Rockburn Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Blend of both vineyards. Nicely intense with fresh, supple, sweet raspberry and cherry fruit. Juicy and direct with a nice crunch to the fruit. Has an ease to it, with good concentration but also some prettiness. Some nice sour cherry notes on the finish. 93/100

Rockburn Six Barrels Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Gibbston, but this can change according to the year. Perfumed, floral nose with some sappy green hints and some tarry notes, as well as sweet cherry fruit. The palate is supple and silky with a sweet fruit core, some lushness, but also a fresh finish. Nice sour cherry and plum notes. Has freshness and elegance, as well as some opulence. I really like the floral notes. 94/100

Rockburn The Art Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Small vineyard in Bannockburn, which they buy the grapes from. A bit more oak and 20% whole bunch. Cedary, savoury edge to the sweet red fruits nose. Fresh, linear and quite supple with a savoury streak to the palate. There’s some restraint to the fruit, and also some oak evident. A refined style that could age well. 92/100

Rockburn Devil’s Staircase Pinot Noir 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
Tank fermented, bottled early. Floral, bright, sappy raspberry and red cherry fruit nose. Juicy, fresh, lively palate with approachable, crunchy berry fruits. It’s sweetly fruited and quite delicious with nice smashability. 89/100

Find these wines with