I’m currently ill. This is unusual for me: I can’t remember the last time.
Of course, I haven’t seen a doctor. I’m male and British, and we tend not to visit doctors unless we are clearly dying. I’m not dying [I think, and hope]. I have a really bad chest and I’m coughing a lot, and it gradually got worse over the course of the week. I feel pretty bad. I think it’s getting better now, but that could be wishful thinking.
I’m spending a lot of time sleeping and generally doing nothing. Fortunately I have had 9 days in the UK (I’m travelling again Saturday, to Chile and Argentina). I was planning to do lots with those 9 days, but I guess it’s important to rest.
Now everyone will be thinking: Goode, you have pushed yourself so hard this year, with excessive travel and far more work than is healthy. So it’s only inevitable that when you stop, you’ll get ill.
I’m not sure it works like that. I can’t think of any mechanism. But in my case it has. I’ve just had to stop, because I can’t really do much in my present state. I’m looking forward to being well again, and maybe (maybe) I shall try to have a more balanced life next year.
At the moment, I’m doing my accounts. And then dinner with friends later. And The Sampler Icon wines to look forward to tomorrow, plus lunch with some more friends. So I really hope my body cooperates and that I am, in fact, getting much better fast.
This is another lovely wine in the Roberson Wine Christmas sale. It’s just lovely: benchmark Crozes from a negotiant working traditionally in the south.
Arnoux & Fils Crozes-Hermitage ‘Petites Collines’ 2014 Northern Rhône, France
12.5% alcohol. Arnoux are a negociant based in Vacqueyras, and they make wines traditionally: fermentation in concrete vats followed by maturation in large foudres. This Crozes is lovely: it’s fresh and perfumed with some black pepper adding interest to the textured black cherry and blackberry palate. It’s just so well balanced and typical: harmony is achieved, and this could only come from the northern Rhône. A super bargain. 91/100 (£12.99 Roberson, reduced from £18)
The Douro Valley in northern Portugal is the home of Port, a famous fortified wine style. The region is one of the most beautiful in the world, with steeply sloped banks rising on either side of the Douro river and its tributaries.
These steep slopes are often trellised so they can be worked safely, but where the slope isn’t too much they can be planted in rows up and down.
The climate here is one of cold winters and long, hot summers. The soils, if you can call them that, are almost all composed of schist, which fractures, allowing the roots to go deep in source of water stored up from the winter rains.
There are lots of different, uniquely Portuguese grape varieties grown here. Typically, an old vineyard will consist of dozens of varieties mixed together. Some of the old vineyards contain as many as 40 different varieties.
Harvest time is in September, and it’s usually still quite warm then. The grapes are picked by hand into small bins and then taken to the winery, where frequently they pass over a sorting table.
Any raisined bunches, or bunches showing rot, or materials other than grapes are discarded and the bunches are then pumped into a lagar.
The lagar is the traditional vessel used for making Port. It’s a shallow, rectangular container made of granite, and it’s specially adapted for foot treading grapes, and with its large surface area to volume ratio, extracting as much as possible from the grape skins in as short as time as possible.
The lagar is filled during the day as the grapes are brought in, and then in the evening it’s time to tread the grapes. For the first two hours the treaders link arms and work methodically: this is called corte (the cut). Then the music starts and people dance and fool around, and the atmosphere is like a party.
By the end, the lagar is full of a deeply coloured, seething mass of intensely purple grape juice. This begins to ferment. The reason that foot treading is important is that because the fermentation of Port wine is stopped early by the addition of grape spirit (aguardiente), there’s much less time to extract the colour and flavour from the skins than there is with red wine. The human foot does this intense extraction without crushing the pips, which would add a bitter taste to the wine.
The next day, the cap is worked with wooden devices called macacas.
Foot treading is still used for many high quality Ports. Others are made more like standard red wines, with pumping over after crushing the berries. Then there are a range of mechanical devices used to work the cap, some designed to resemble robotic foot treading.
Samples of aguardiente for fortifying Port
After the wine has fermented for a few days, it is time to fortify it. The wine is bled off from the lagar and spirit is added to bring the concentration to around 20% alcohol. Then the skins are shovelled out and pressed to remove the remaining wine, which is blended back with the Port.
A basket press
Then it’s time to decide the fate of the Port. There are two main styles: ruby and tawny. Ruby refers to wines that are aged just a short time in barrel and then bottled with lots of fruit and structure. This would include Vintage Port (2 years in wood), Late Bottled Vintage (4 years in wood, typically), or ruby reserve (less expensive products with variable time in wood). Tawny Ports are aged in wood for a long time, losing their red/purple colour and turning brown, with complex flavours of raisins, wood casks and spice. Most are non vintage with an indication of age (10, 20, 30 or even 40 year old), while vintage dated versions are called Colheitas. There are also less expensive non-dated tawnies.
Old rabelos outside one of the Gaia Port lodges
In the past, Port wines were shipped down river to Vila Nova de Gaia on boats called rabelos. Now they make the journey by road, if they end up there at all.
Looking over the Port lodges in Gaia towards the centre of Porto
Most Port houses still have lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, over the river from the centre of Porto. They are known for their distinctive red roofs. This is where the barrels mature and the blending takes place. But some companies have shifted their operations to purpose built warehouses in the Douro.
You can have quite a bit of fun visiting the Port lodges, many of which offer tours, and of course tastings.
Hunter Semillon. One of the wine world’s most distinctive wine styles. This is a good one: the single vineyard HVD from Tyrrell’s with six years’ bottle age. Just beginning to hit its stride. The HVD Vineyard was planted by the Hunter Valley Distillery Company, and the oldest vines here were planted in 1908. It was leased to Penfolds in 1933, and they bought it in 1948. Murray Terrell believed it to be one of the finest white wine vineyards in the Hunter, and he bought it in 1982.
Tyrrell’s Wines HVD Single Vineyard Semillon 2010 Hunter Valley, Australia
11% alcohol. Very fine, aromatic nose with subtle toast, citrus pith and lime aromas. The palate has brightness and a lightness, but also delicate toastiness and some wax and lime oil notes. Lovely precision and density. This has lots of ageing potential, but it’s beginning to show some of the toasty development that makes Hunter Semillon so interesting with age. 93/100 (£32 Marks & Spencer; UK agent Fells)
I met with Brendon and Kirstyn Keys, the B and K in BK Wines over lunch at the Harwood Arms. They had new releases in tow. They are in the process of building a winery right now.
Brendon has been working with concrete eggs. ‘I like what oak does to the fermentation, but you always get some oak flavour out,’ he says. ‘We purchased an egg and it has done what we want to do. You still get the purity of the wine but you get fullness, richness and roundness.’ He’s tried both the Nomblot (France) and Sonoma Cast Stone (California). The latter he says is better looking but he gets similar, but slightly different results from both.
Brendon has recently started bottling in December for some of the wines. ‘2015 was the first year I’ve bottled in December,’ he explains. ‘Wines that go through a summer in the winery always need more SO2. They displace CO2 and when they cool down they take up oxygen and display aldehyde. This way we get to bottle with better free to total SO2 ratio. I’m not anti-SO2, but there’s a lot of lazy SO2 use in wineries.’
BK Wines relies on growers. ‘I have five growers and I love them all,’ says Brendon. ‘So many growers are downtrodden. They have been beaten up by large companies, so they are no longer open to new ideas. I use the same growers every year so they know what we are about.’
We began with their Pet Nat, which is a wine whose demand they simply can’t keep up with.
BK Wines Pet Nat 2016 Adelaide Hills, Australia
‘It’s kind of cross your fingers a little bit,’ says Brendon, concerning making Pet Nat, which requires bottling the wine while it’s still fermenting. It’s textured and lively with some sweetness. Nicely complex too. 90/100
BK Wines Ovum Pinot Gris 2015 Adelaide Hills, Australia
This is made in a concrete egg, and its one of the autumn releases. Bit of press wine. Textured with nice weight and fine pear fruit. Lively with some fine spiciness. Very attractive. 92/100
BK Wines One Ball Chardonnay 2015 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Fresh, tight and lemony with some pear notes. Subtle with a bit of apple. Textural with lovely mineral hints. Very pure and attractive. 93/100
BK Wines Swaby Chardonnay 2013 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Bernie Swaby is a grower. Very mineral and taut with lovely apple and pear fruit, as well as fine citrus. Generous with an appealing mineral, reductive core. Delicious. 95/100
BK Wines Skin ‘n’ Bones Pinot Noir 2015 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Beautifully aromatic with fine red cherries. Textural and juicy with a bit of meatiness. Elegant, fine floral aromatics. Good acidity. Fine and expressive with some herbal notes. 94/10
BK Wines Gower Pinot Noir 2014 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Beautifully aromatic and textural with fine sappy notes and sweet cherries and plums. This wine has lovely density with a core of rich but balanced fruit and a lively, juicy finish. Tight and delicious. 95/100
BK Wines Cult Syrah 2013 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Deep coloured and brooding with rich black cherry and blackberry fruit. Lovely richness and intensity. Brooding, powerful, vivid and floral. Rich yet fresh. 93/100
BK Wines Mazi Syrah 2013 McLaren Vale, Australia
From Blewett Springs. 100% whole bunch. Fresh and lively with some meaty black cherries and blackberries. Sweet, a bit spicy and vivid with some peppery notes. Rich but balanced. Lovely. 93/100
BK Wines Springs Hill 2015 McLaren Vale, Australia
70% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, 10% Grenache. 100% whole bunch. Amazing perfumed black fruits. Peppery and a bit reductive. Spicy, lively palate with a bit of CO2. Intense, meaty and floral with so many layers. Juicy, distinctive and fresh. 95/100
In mid-September, we visited the Douro Valley in Portugal during harvest. We spent quite a bit of time chatting with the producers. The vibe here was good: most seemed to be in the midst of a successful vintage, and quite happy with the fruit that was coming in. But it wasn’t the most straightforward year. The climate was all over the place, and quantity was down by approximately 30% (even more for those farming organically). Despite this, everyone we chatted with felt that the quality of what they were harvesting was high. Here’s a film we made showing how Port wine is made. This is the second in our series of collaborative films after our recent Sekt tape.
2016 started well viticulturally with a wet winter, bringing more than double the rainfall of the previous winter and some 80 mm more than the average of the last 30 years. Above-average temperatures advanced the vegetative cycle by 10 days in some areas, resulting in an early bud break. However, the real challenge came when the rains continued into April and May, bringing three times the average rainfall for these two months. Some parts of the Douro were hit with a full spring flood, rendering the river unnavigable to tourists and transport.
The wet and cool April and May increased disease pressure as well as erosion in the steep vineyards. Growers that were able to protect their vines during this period were left with lower yields, and delayed development.
June and July brought a return to warm weather but then the pendulum swung the other way, bringing an unusually hot August. This again further slowed the maturation of the vines, with the high temperatures causing them to shut down under strain. A saving rainfall fell on the 24th and 26th August, helping plump some raisined grapes just before harvest fully kicked off.
September started with an intense heat wave, reaching a high of 43 C on September 6th. Understandably, younger vines fared worst, with their less developed root systems. However, older vines coped better, their deep roots drawing on the humidity from the wet winter and spring. Some growers chose to pick hastily, following weeks of intense heat and dropping acidity in the whites. Many chose to wait on the reds, however, believing them to benefit from a later harvest and more ripeness and maturity. Some growers reported vine maturity being 15 days behind a typical vintage as of the second week of September.
On September 12th and 13th rain fell across the entire Douro region, again bringing relief to grapes requiring a little extra juice to harvest, and creating another pause in the picking. After that, rainfall was sporadic, the daytime temperatures mostly warm and nights cool. Many Port wine producers continued picking into mid October.
It’s too soon to see how good the wines will be, but after such a roller-coaster season with all its climatic anomalies, everyone seems pretty pleased with what they have in their lagares, tanks and barrels.
Really enjoyed these three from Hoffmann & Rathbone, a high-quality negotiant operation based in Sussex.
Hoffmann & Rathbone Classic Cuvée Brut 2010 Sussex, England
60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier. 12% alcohol, 10 g/l TA, 7 g/l dosage. Debut vintage from Ulrich Hoffmann. Very bright and focused with pithy, tight lemon and grapefruit characters. There’s a hint of ripe apple and pineapple as well as subtle bready notes. Very tight and linear with keen acidity. This will probably develop beautifully with time. It’s just so pure and focused. Tastes even better on day two. 90/100
Hoffmann & Rathbone Rosé Réserve 2011 Sussex, England
85% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay. Four different vineyards: the Chardonnay is barrel fermented. Some of the Pinot Noir is left to ripen later and then used to make a red wine that’s blended in to give the colour. This is interesting: it’s really toasty and supple with nice citrus and herb characters. Really seductive and spicy with a bit of grip. Lovely, accessible wine. 90/100
Hoffmann & Rathbone Bacchus 2015 Sussex, England
11% alcohol, 5 g/l residual sugar, pH 3.3, TA 7.5 g/litre. Single vineyard, 50% barrel fermented. Reductive nose with exotic tropical passionfruit notes. Lively and bright with a lovely elderflower character, plus hints of hedgerows in spring. Very pretty and bright with a hint of sweetness. This is exotic English Bacchus at its best. 89/100
Hambledon is one of the most exciting of all the English sparkling wine producers. They’ve just released their first rosé, and it’s really impressive.
Hambledon Rosé NV Hampshire, England
12% alcohol. 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir (red wine). 95% of 2014 vintage and 5% reserve wines, some aged in barrel. This is beautiful. It has vivid, slightly crunchy cranberry and red cherry characters as well as keen but finely integrated acidity and impeccable balance with just a touch of sweetness balancing the acid, and adding volume in the process. Really fine and with more than a hint of seriousness. Long, mineral finish. 92/100
This was an interesting tasting that attempted to put Washington State’s wines in context by blind tasting them with some stiff international competition. We tasted double blind, although in each flight the first wine was sighted, and from Washington State.
Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars led the tasting. He was an MS (master sommelier) in the restaurant business, running a group of 20 restaurants. He visited Washington State and realized that this was somewhere you could make wines of balance and place. He then did a vintage with Pepperbridge, and this led in quick succession to him quitting the day job and moving to Walla Walla to make his own wines. His Gramercy wines are some of the best in the state.
This tasting focused on two varieties: Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter is now the state’s most widely planted grape (it very recently overtook Riesling), and it’s probably what Washington State is best known for. Syrah is less widely planted, but it is becoming a bit of a star. The results were very interesting. These are my notes, exactly as written blind.
Some of the scores for the famous names look surprising. But Ponet-Canet is 2013, a terrible year in Bordeaux, and Guigal’s Ampuis isn’t really my idea of great Côte Rôtie. The Washington wines showed really well, with the exception of the Cayuse which was a little too developed and baked.
Two Vintners ‘Some Days Are Diamonds’ Syrah 2013 Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Ripe, sweet berryish nose. Vivid, quite lush on the palate with nice seductive sweet black cherry fruit, with a hint of pepper. There’s a freshness and focus here. There’s an appealing inky, almost bloody character hiding under the sweet fruit. Very appealing. 93/100
Long Shadows Sequel Syrah 2013 Columbia Valley, Washington State
9% Cabernet. Slightly green edge to the nervy black cherry and raspberry fruit. Fresh, supple, seductive blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some hints of pepper and coffee. Ripe and appealing with sweet black fruits dominating. Wants to be riper than it is, it seems. Nice fruit quality. 92/100
Clape Cornas 2012 Northern Rhône, France
Brooding, with a graphite and gravel edge to the supple, balanced, vivid black fruits. Quite savoury with high acidity and a leanness to the fruit. Grippy and structured in a restrained, cool-climate style. Finishes dry and a little bitter. 91/100
Cayuse Horsepower Vineyards ‘The Tribe’ Syrah 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
Very sweet olive and black cherry nose with some green herbal hints. Floral, with some development. The palate is very ripe with meat and olives. It’s sweet and distinctive: a warm-climate, meaty, peppery style with quite a bit of development. 90/100
Gramercy Cellars ‘The Deuce’ Syrah 2014 Walla Walla, Washington State
100% concrete, 100% whole cluster. 13.3% alcohol. Aged in neutral puncheons. Fresh, lively and pure with supple, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Nice peppery freshness here, as well as sweet fruit. Very appealing with lovely detail and precision. Modern-styled but very good. 93/100
Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.8% alcohol. Complex, beguiling peppery style with hints of mint and fine herbs, as well as fresh, focused black cherry fruit. Complex, fine and peppery with great detail and precision. The fruit is ripe, but not overly so, and it supports the peppery detail really well. 94/100
Guigal Chateau d’Ampuis Côte Rôtie 2012 Northern Rhône, France
7% Viognier. There’s a bit of chocolate and coffee on the nose. Supple, quite restrained cherry and berry fruits here. Very well mannered with some fine spiciness and a bit of savouriness. Some oak here. Balanced but lacking in excitement. 90/100
Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines
Col Solare 2012 Red Mountain, Washington State
Coffee and chocolate on the nose with bright black fruits. Has some freshness and a bit of spicy detail, alongside the sweet, pure fruit. Lush and modern but not too ripe. 91/100
Château Pontet-Canet 2013 Pauillac, Bordeaux
Very fresh, juicy and bright with supple berry fruits. Hints of green and also a bit of raspberry freshness. Linear and detailed with a savoury finish. 90/100
Andrew Will Sorella 2012 Horse Heaven Hills, Washington State
Concentrated, dense and lively with juicy acidity and spicy blackcurrant fruit. Vivid and intense with acidity that sticks out a bit from the sweet, concentrated fruit. 91/100
Penfolds Bin 407 2012 South Australia
Some mint here on the nose. Lush, ripe, sweet palate with good concentration. Ripe and generous with lovely smooth, seductive blackcurrant fruit. Tastes like a very fine Aussie Cab. 93/100
Betz Family Winery ‘Père de Famille’ 2013 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Sweetly fruited yet fresh with linear, seductive black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Fresh and detailed. Lovely focus to the fruit. Ripe but balanced. 92/100
Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 Walla Walla, Washington State
Ripe, lush, peppery and intense with dense, smooth, concentrated black fruits. Lush, big and chocolatey with lots going on. It’s very ripe but there’s some balance and I like it. 93/100
Château Rauzlan-Segla 2012 Margaux, Bordeaux, France
Fresh, juicy, crunchy blackcurrant fruit here. Lovely freshness countering the sweetness of the fruit. A concentrated yet balanced wine that really appeals. Lovely. 94/100
Day 2 of our Madeira visit began in the new Blandy’s cellars, which are located near the main Port, just past the airport. They’ve been moving most of their production here from the lodge in Funchal over the last few years simply because it’s much easier to work here, and because it’s where the wines are shipped from. Funchal wasn’t designed for lorry access.
We had an extensive technical tasting with winemaker Francisco Albuquerque, who’s been at Blandy’s for a quarter of a century, even though he’s not that old. He prepared lots of samples, and we did a deep dive with Bual, looking at samples from 2016 (just vinified, tastes petty appalling and nothing like Madeira), all the way back to 1957.
We also looked at two very interesting young wines made from Tinta Negra, the island’s most widely grown grape variety. Tinta Negra is usually produced by the artificial heating process known as estufagem. It’s considered to be inferior to the traditional method of leaving barrels in warm lofts over summer. But Albuquerque has spent years examining the various parameters along with university scientists, and has come up with a protocol that avoids the problems of traditional estufagem, and replicates closely in quality the traditional process. The glass on the left is the same wine as the one on the right, only the one on the right has gone through four months of the Blandy’s estufagem protocol. The difference is amazing. It transforms an ordinary slightly sweet red wine into something quite compelling, even in its youth.
This is a page from an order book, from the golden age of Madeira wine, in the early 19th century. They used to write so neatly
The new warehouse has a lot of old barrels.
Then after our session at the winery, we headed out to discover more of the island. We hopped over to the much more remote north coast, and this is where we stopped for lunch at Quinta do Furão, where Blandy’s have 2 hectares of vines. This was the view we had for lunch! So impressive, and the north isn’t short of views like these.
A Madeira cocktail. With a view.
After lunch we headed over to a new terraced vineyard planted by Blandy’s on land leased from the church. This is quite a project by Madeira standards. It’s called Quinta do Bispo and it’s located in São Jorge, and has 4 hectares of vines.
Carrying on round the island: more views!
The final vineyards we looked at were in São Vicente. It’s pretty spectacular here. This is one of the major vineyard areas.