In Porto (4) Dinner at O Gaveto

Gaveto has had a refit since I was here last. It was a memorable meal last time, so it was good to be back. Hosting us were Vitor and Teresa Bento and their son and daughter, Alfonso and Mafalda. I can’t speak highly enough of Gaveto: the seafood here is so pure and delicious, and served in an uncomplicated but expert fashion. And it has a great wine list, although we mostly drank wines from Vitor’s cellar. And we drank very well.

Vitor Bento with his Nat Cool T-shirt

We began with grower Champagne, with bolinho de bacalhau. We’d found this at Prova – it’s actually quite tough finding serious grower Champagne in Porto.

Champagne Tarlant Zero Brut Nature NV France
One third of each of the main varieties, based on 2008 with some reserve wines, bottled 2009 and disgorged October 2015. Tight, lemony and pristine with focused citrus fruits and some hints of honey and a bit of spice. Linear and precise with lovely complexity, as well as some structure. 93/100

Octavin Pamina Alice Bouvot 2015 Vin de France
This is 100% Chardonnay from the Jura. So detailed and mineral with hints of apple and pear, alongside a core of lemony fruit. This is so fine and expressive with a nice delicate grainy structure in the mouth. Some volatile acidity here but it integrates quite beautifully. A precise, joyful wine. 95/100

Percebes (goose barnacles) and prawns

Ruth Lewandoski Wine Feints Cuvée Zero 2017
From the Fox Hill Vineyard, this is a blend of 36% Arneis, 32% Dolcetto, 16% Barbera and 14% Nebbiolo, weighing in at 11.5% alcohol. Juicy with sweet cherries, plums and citrus fruit. Linear with a hint of red apple, too. Light, bright and focused. 94/100

The freshest sea bass you can imagine

Domaine Valette Pouilly-Fuissé Tradition 2013 Burgundy, France
Complex, mineral and powerful with pear and apple fruit as well as some honeyed richness. Finely spiced. Lovely intensity and complexity with lemons, pears and spice. Great concentration here, and it keeps developing in the glass. Amazing stuff. 96/100

Shrimp omelette

Jean-Pierre Guyon Savigny-Les-Beaune ‘Les Planchots’ 2015 Burgundy
This was vinified by Dirk Niepoort. Very refined with fine-grained sweet cherry fruit. This has texture, elegance and incredible purity and focus. Such an elegant, poised Pinot showing purity and restraint. 94/100

Château d’Arlay Vin Jaune 2006 Jura, France
Nutty and intense with a salty edge to the apple and pear notes. Fine and spicy with good intensity. A good, but not spectacular Vin Jaune. 92/100

MBV Mario (Barbeito Vasconcelos) Boal 1863 Madeira
This is named after Ricardo Diogo’s grandfather who founded Barbeito. This 1863 was taken from barrel and put into demijohns, and then put into bottles. For this bottling Ricardo opened all the bottles, tasted them, and then rebottled the sound ones and recorked them. This is quite remarkable, with great density and notes of raisins, minerals, spice, iodine and treacle, showing amazing acidity. This has incredible complexity and focus. 98/100

Quinta do Baraio Carcavelos Ultima Reserva NV Portugal
This is one of the last bottles of an extinct wine, Carcavelos, a fortified wine from near Lisbon. Now buildings occupy the vineyard site. Deep brown in colour with savoury, spicy, treacly fruit and notes of raisins and nuts. Very expressive with old furniture notes. Has sweetness but also savouriness. 95/100


New York Wines (14) Nathan Kendall, Chëpika and Hickory Hollow, Finger Lakes

Nathan Kendall

Nathan Kendall is one of the bright lights of the Finger Lakes wine scene. He’s winemaker at Hickory Hollow winery, but also makes wine under his own name. And he’s also involved in a new project with Pascaline Lepeltier, the famed New York Sommelier, making a pet nat called Chëpika.

Nathan met Pascaline a few years ago when she was putting together a wine list for Rouge Tomate – she was talking about finding some local organic wines which don’t exist. So Nathan suggested working with these hybrids which are better adapted to being farmed organically. The first of these grapes were planted in the region in the 1820s. They went back to these original vines, and Delaware and Catawba were the original grapes planted, which they used for these two wines.

They did a trial batch in 2014 with bulk juice, doing traditional method. They decided there was a great deal of potential. So they found a property that had been organic since 1971, bought some fruit and made it as a pet nat. In 2016 they used a bit of sulfur at press, in the 2017 none. ‘It was to see what was possible,’ said Pascaline. ‘We wanted to make wines as transparent as possible.’

They upped production to 1850 bottles in 2017. These are really interesting wines that show the potential of hybrids.

Chëpika Delaware 2016
Direct press, spontaneous fermentation. Picked at 18 Brix. Tangy and bright with lovely pure citrus fruit. Juicy and a bit grippy with nice freshness and brightness. Has keen acidity with a pithy finish. So refreshing and detailed, with a saline edge. 89/100

Chëpika Catawba 2016
Such a distinctive, bright lemony fruity nose. Juicy and bright with some spicy, tangy grapefruit and lemon notes. Juicy and tangy with a jellyish like character. So juicy and bright with keen acidity. Delicious if a bit unusual. 88/100

Chëpika Delaware 2017
There’s a slightly nutty edge to the bright lemony fruit. Textural and interesting with a fresh finely spiced citrus, apple and pear character. Complex and detailed with some savoury biscuit notes. 89/100

Chëpika Catawba 2017
Bright, lively and lemony with a fine spiciness and bright pithy, lemony fruit. Floral, spicy and grapey. Linear and focused with a lovely bright grippy edge to it. Great acidity. 90/100

Nathan Kendall started his own brand in 2011. He hails from the region, worked around the world, and came back in 2011. He started working at Ravines, where he began to make a few barrels of wine. Every year he’s gradually made more wine. ‘I’m a big fan of textural components of wine,’ says Nathan. ‘I’m trying to make richer, more textured wines.’ He uses spontaneous fermentations and doesn’t add anything, except for a bit of SO2.

Nathan Kendall Chardonnay 2016
Blend of two vineyards, one 40 years old (clay loam), one 20 (shale soils). Nutty and detailed with lovely fine-grained structure. Nice lemony notes with some pear and peach richness, and some fine spiciness. Has lovely balance and weight: such finesse here. 92/100

Nathan Kendall Dry Riesling 2013
Comes from the White Springs vineyard. This is so delicate, primary and pristine still with spicy, slightly salty citrus fruit. Fine and expressive with lovely citrus and pear fruit, with a hint of apple and a long mineral finish. Very fine and expressive. 92/100

Nathan Kendall Dry Riesling Green Label 2016
10.8% alcohol. Two vineyards, one 45 yr old one 20. Older vines in neutral French oak, the younger in stainless steel. Linear and focused with high acidity. Quite mineral with lovely precision and freshness, and a bit of grip here. A touch of sweetness (4 g/l) on the finish. Very expressive. 91/100

Nathan Kendall Dry Riesling Black Label 2016
Harvested later, from silt loam soils. Realised tasting these two they could never blend. 12.8% alcohol. Stainless steel fermentation. Stony, bright and lemony with lovely precision. Dry and linear with a nice steely edge. 91/100

Nathan Kendall Pinot Noir Rosé 2017
Pinot Noir. Made the anti-Rosé. Direct pressed to neutral French oak barrels, full malolactic, gross lees ageing. Reductive and quirky but with lovely texture in the mouth. Stylish and smooth with nice weight. Very smooth and detailed. 89/100

Nathan Kendall Pinot Noir 2016
Incorporated a new vineyard and increased whole cluster to 40%. Same vineyard blend as Chardonnay. Pale coloured. Smooth and sweet with a warm, spicy, fine textural palate. Pretty, rich, warm and spicy with nice weight. It’s rich and warm but also elegant and quite fine. Very textural style. 91/100

Nathan Kendall Pinot Noir 2015
100% 20 year old vines on shale, back pack cuttings from Clos Vougeot. This is quite intense with bright raspberry and cherry fruit. Mouthfilling and warm with nice brightness, but also a warm spiciness. Juicy and quite chunky, but has some elegance too. 90/100

Hickory Hollow

Hickory Hollow Cabernet Franc 2016
Doing some whole bunch, trying to make balanced wines. Supple and elegant with fresh juicy raspberry and red cherry fruit. Quite elegant and bright with lovely juiciness. Supple and honest, and quite delicious. Juicy red fruits character. 92/100

Hickory Hollow Cabernet Franc Merlot 2016
Pale cherry red in colour. Very supple and refined with nice fine spiciness. Juicy red cherry and plum fruit. Easy and balanced with lovey supple red fruits. Lovely balance with fresh acidity. Expressive. 92/100

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Paso-Primero: good affordable wines from Somontano, Spain

Paso-Primero is a Somantano wine company run by Thomas and Emma Holt. They hail from Shropshire (England) and previously made wine in Niagara, Canada, but they found that the winters there were just a bit too harsh for them. So they relocated to Spain, to the Somontano region in the foothills of the Pyrenees. As well as some well-priced and tasty wines, they also make a Vermouth.

Paso-Primero Blanco 2017 Somontano, Spain
Chardonnay (31%), Riesling (32%) and Gewurztraminer (37%). 14% alcohol. This is plump and generous with sweet grape, lychee, melon and pineapple flavours. A very pretty, textured wine in which the spicy, broad Gewurztraminer makes its presence most felt. Very attractive and full. 89/100 (£8.50 Tanners)

Paso-Primero Tinto 2016 Somontano, Spain
14% alcohol. Merlot (79%) with Tempranillo (12%) and Cabernet Sauvingon (9%). Berryish, bright and juicy with lovely brisk cherry and berry fruits. Some blackcurrant notes and a twist of spice. Fruit forward and focused with a cedary twist adding savouriness. 87/100 (£8.50 Tanners)

Paso-Prima 2016 Somontano, Spain
14% alcohol. This is a varietal Chardonnay made in a combination of stainless steel, concrete and a single oak barrel. This is fruit driven and full flavoured with rounded pear, spice and pineapple, with subtle traces of nuttiness. The fruit is expansive and really nicely balanced. Smooth and mouthfilling. 90/100 (£11.95 Tanners)

Paso-Verme Vermouth, Spain
15% alcohol. Red-tinged deep brown in colour, this is highly aromatic, with notes of tar, medicine, mint, sweet cherries and herbs. In the mouth it is warm, sweet, complex and spicy with nice richness and harmony.

Viñedos de Alcohuaz: superb biodynamic wines from Elqui in Chile

It’s been almost eight years since I visited Elqui, and the bright light and primeval, stunning scenery is still with me today. It’s the perfect place for star gazing because of the lack of light pollution, and the number of clear nights here.

Alcohuaz is a small village high up in the Elqui Valley. Alvaro Flano and his son Patricio bought land here and started planting vineyards as high up as 2200 metres, in collaboration with Juan Luis Huerta and his wife Helia Rojas, and winemaker Marcelo Retamal (from De Martino).

The terroir here is extreme: practically desert, with granitic and volcanic soils with a high mineral content, and huge diurnal temperature swings. Winemaking is quite natural: foot treading and fermentation in granite lagares, then aging in concrete and large wood vessels.

Cuesta Chica de Alcohuaz Garnacha 2015 Elqui, Chile
13.5% alcohol. Vivid and lively with some warm, sweet, liqueur-like cherry and plum fruit, together with some savoury spicy hints, a twist of pepper and some fine herbal hints. Very bright with good acidity and freshness and focus to the fruit. Needs a little time to come together. A tiny bit bitter on the finish. 91/100

Crus de Alcohuaz Mezcla Tinta 2016 Elqui, Chile
13% alcohol. 56% Syrah, 21% Garnacha, 14 Petite Sirah, 9% Petit Verdot, from 1850 m. Subtle chocolatey, spicy edge to the fresh black fruits nose. The palate is fresh and vivid with beautifully supple blackberry and black cherry fruit. Expressive with a nice sappy edge to the vivid fruit. So well balanced with a lovely silky midpalate. 93/100

Rhu de Alcohuaz Mezcle Tinta 2012 Elqui, Chile
13.5% alcohol. 73% Syrah, 18% Garnacha, 9% Petit Verdot. There’s a hint of cedar and spice here, sitting alongside the ripe but nicely defined blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Has a lovely supple, fleshy structure but it’s also very fresh. Intriguing stuff with a nice developed, savoury character sitting under the fruit. Ripe but balanced. 92/100

La Era de Alcohuaz Malbec 2015 Elqui, Chile
13% alcohol. Supple and fresh with a pleasant, sappy green edge to the fresh, textured blackberry fruit. Juicy and lively with a stony, bright edge. Picked early, this has so much vitality. Juicy and focused with nice precision, and perhaps even a hint of mint. 92/100

Tococo de Alcohuaz Syrah 2015 Elqui, Chile
13% alcohol. Fresh, lively and a bit sappy with some nice grip. Some stems here? Supple, grainy herb-tinged black cherry fruit with some nice reductive hints. Has nice juiciness. Sappy and quite focused with potential for development. 93/100

UK agent: Indigo Wine

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Beware the wine consumer champions

There is a new breed of consumer champion loose in the world of wine.

They are a band of vocal marketers, commentators and ‘thought leaders’ who are upset and outraged by the way that the wine industry is expressing loathing, hatred and disregard for ‘the consumer’, leaving large swathes of the drinking population feeling criticised, belittled and vilified.

They are angry with the wine trade. They are aligning themselves with ‘the consumer’, a largely undefined population of hurting, neglected folk who represent everyone who drinks wine apart from the wine trade.

So in this new narrative of wine the cast and plot are simple.

On the one side we have the baddies. This shady crowd consists of the wine trade at large, and anyone who has wine expertise, or who finds wine interesting, and enjoys the culture of wine, fine wine, natural wine, sharing interesting bottles with geeky friends, small production wines, wine books and wine education.

On the other side we have goodies: the consumers. These are people who don’t know much about wine, don’t want to spend much on it, but really enjoy their wines and get a lot of pleasure out of them, who drink with friends, who are happy most of the time. They are simple, joyful folk.

It’s clear which side any right thinking person would be on, right?

The plot? It goes something like this.

The wine trade hates consumers. It tries to make wine complicated and difficult out of sheer spite, to keep consumers away. And when these baddies see consumers having fun, they try to ruin their pleasure by criticising their choices. The great tragedy is that instead of telling consumers to like what they like, and endorsing their choices, the wine trade often suggests that the wines the consumers are drinking are of poor quality, and that by spending a bit more, and learning a little about wine, consumers could be having a better experience. This is shocking, and quite sickening, say the consumer champions. It leaves the consumers feeling demeaned, belittled, and, of course, vilified. Always vilified.

But it’s OK. Into town ride the heroes of the hour. Just in the nick of time, the consumer champions arrive in a frenzy of faux outrage. They are here to help. Thank goodness. Their rescue mission is two pronged in strategy. The first is to reach out to the consumer: they place an arm around their collective shoulder and speak soothingly. ‘We’re not like the rest of the wine trade,’ they say. ‘We get you. We are on your side. All this wine complexity? It’s nonsense. There’s nothing to see. Just enjoy the wines you are already drinking. They are great!’

The second stage is to berate the wine trade, and to target anyone possessing expertise. Fight back! Their special talent: exposing structural problems in the wine industry. Production is too distributed. There’s a mismatch between the scale of production and modern retail, which means that the route to market is tough for many producers. Many small family businesses struggle to make money. It’s expensive to make really interesting wine, and this puts it out of the reach of many peoples’ budgets. And wine is unbelievably complex, and many producers make little effort to help reduce this complexity. And, of course, most people just want a glass of wine to drink that doesn’t taste bad and which isn’t too expensive. These are all true. But after pointing all these out, the consumer champions don’t offer solutions. They just beat the wine trade up about it.

Consumer champions love innovation. The wine trade, they say, resists innovation, and this is one of the reasons it is in trouble. Why does it resist? Because the wine trade hates consumers, and consumers want innovation, so the wine trade stubbornly resists just to spite them, and this is shameful and saddening, and brings us close to tears. So the consumer champions celebrate any innovation, however crazy, inappropriate, or laughable it is.

Remember: the consumer champions are all futurists, too. They anticipate a future where you can have a device on your phone that reads your DNA, reads your emotional state, chooses a wine that matches your biology and state of mind, creates it in three minutes by chemical synthesis, and then delivers this personalized wine by drone in a further two minutes in novel recyclable packaging that sequesters carbon dioxide from the environment as it self destructs after you’ve finished. Don’t criticize this idea: remember, when you were given your first digital watch in 1979, you’d have found the idea of an iPhone ludicrous at the time. This is progress, and all progress is good, and to be welcomed, and to be claimed as our own because we saw it coming.

But it’s when it comes to attracting new customers that the consumer champions get most fired up. They want to help the wine industry grow, sell more wine, and above all recruit new customers. They will come and speak at your conference for a modest fee, tell you off, and then tell you how to win new customers.

The solution? Strip wine of its complexity. Get rid of all the experts with their annoying expertise. Make wine taste nice again. Sweetness is helpful here, because young people have simple tastes and want things to be sweet and easy. Young people are scared away by wine, and would rather drink sodas, alcopops, mixed spirits, fruit ciders and beer.

So we need to encourage the wine industry to make simple, sweet wines that taste more like soft drinks or fruit coolers than wine. Add flavourings to wine? Why not? Anything that makes it simple and easy enough for young people, with all their limitations, to enjoy. And if the young enjoy these concoctions, don’t tell them they are wrong, because they like what they like and they are the ultimate arbiters of taste. Who gets to decide what is a good wine and a bad wine? It’s you, of course, the consumer. All we want is to help the wine industry sell more wine to more people.

My response? I think the consumer champions are well intentioned. But they are misguided. They identify many of the problems in the wine industry, but have no real solutions, and some of the solutions they proffer are actually dangerous.

There is a structural issue in the wine industry between the scale of production and the scale of modern retail. Wine is an incredibly distributed, fragmented business and few people make much money out of it. Consumption in traditional wine-producing countries is going down.

But wine is necessarily complex. It is different to other drinks. And if you segment the industry you see tremendous success stories alongside the tales of woe. There has never been such global interest in interesting wine, nor has there there ever been so much interesting wine being made. When I travel the wine world I see lots of engagement with younger drinkers. I see regions transformed with young vignerons taking over and making interesting wines from well farmed vineyards.

The consumer champions either don’t see this, or they choose to ignore it. They champion wines that have few of the qualities that make wine interesting and unique. They celebrate processed wine. They focus on people making poor wine and struggling to make a living, tell the wine industry how badly it is doing, and take an anti-expert stance.

Look at bread, or coffee, or chocolate. There’s instant coffee, there’s white sliced bread, there’s mass market milk chocolate. As a teenager and young adult I consumed all of these. Now, as an adult, I realise that none are good quality. They serve a purpose, and many people enjoy them. But it’s insane to expect commentators in these categories to extol their merits, or even write much about them. They are objectively crap, but there’s a place for them. You don’t expect restaurant critics to write about McDonalds or Pizza Hut, It’s that way with wine.

Many mass market, processed wines are consumed happily by millions of people, but they are objectively crap. As a wine journalist I find there is nothing to say about them. I taste them occasionally, and I keep my opinions to myself.

I actually taste a lot of commercial wine. More than most. It’s not just a diet of fancy wine for me. Most are crap. That’s just the way it is. If you ask me, I will tell you. There is a place for these wines, but some of them are evil and are more likely to put people off wine than recruit them to the category. They sell because they have distribution, not necessarily because people enjoy them. It’s all they have to drink within their price point and at the point of purchase.

This is not something we should celebrate. It’s perfectly appropriate to tell people that they can drink better wines that they may enjoy more, and which are culturally rich, and which are well made from vineyards that are sustainably farmed, and which could enhance their lives. I wouldn’t walk into their living room and tell them that, but they aren’t going to read what I write unless they are looking for it.

Because this whole consumer champion line of people feeling shamed or upset or put down – or, of course, vilified – by experts saying that they could be drinking better is just a silly myth. People drinking sweetened up reds and who enjoy them will keep on drinking them. They never read about wine – it’s far too abstract. There are precisely zero people out there who are feeling offended right now because of wine experts saying that the wines they drink aren’t very good.

There are, of course, some who are feeling insecure about their choice. They suspect they may be drinking crap wine, and this is because in truth better wines do exist, and they sort of know it. It’s like me meeting a coffee expert, while holding a Starbucks flat white in my hand, or sipping a Nespresso. I know there are better options out there, and so I feel a bit embarrassed, but often I’m perfectly happy with my lesser options. And these lesser options are better than the instant coffee I used to have as a student. There’s no need to blame the coffee industry for having quality tiers. And I don’t feel vilified.

The consumer champions mean well. They often sound plausible. And they will try to shut you down if you disagree with them. But don’t be taken in by their simple narrative and plot line. This ignores the complex reality, and it is in the details – and segmenting the market – that the truth is found. Wine is far too rich, complex and diverse to be understood through such a simple worldview, and to be rescued by the false salvation they offer.

In Porto (3) Prova and Wine Quay, two nice wine bars

Prova, Porto

Porto has some good wine bars. We checked out two, on our brief visit. The first is Prova. This is a nicely situated, stylish wine bar with a great list and some nice small plates. The staff are also excellent. We got chatting, and were given a taste of a very cool wine that hasn’t yet been released (it’s awaiting approval by the IVDP as it’s a variety that currently isn’t allowed on its own, hence the label).

Quinta da Costa do Pinhão Mourisco 2016 Douro, Portugal
This is a lighter red wine that’s sappy, green, mineral and balanced with supple cherry and plum fruit. It’s stony with subtle notes of iodine and spice. I love it. 94/100

Then we chose a bottle off the list. It was from the Azores, and it was excellent. We had it with some small snacks: anchovies and sardines. This was a happy place.

Magma Verdelho 2016 DO Biscoitos, Azores
This is from the island of Terceira, and it’s made with help from consultant winemaker Anselmo Mendes. Volcanic soils, 1200 bottles made. There’s a lovely intensity and depth to this wine: it’s textural with smoothness, some graininess and focused lemony fruit as well as richer melon notes. Mineral in a textural, grainy sort of way. 93/100

The other wine bar we checked out is rather different. It has a good, strong list at very good prices, but a supplementary attraction is the location: the Wine Quay Bar looks out over the river towards Gaia, and it’s a really stunning view as the sun sets.

We had a pre-dinner bottle of Filipa Pato’s 3B Rosé, which is just a deliciously fruity wine with nice balance. And at €16 for a bottle, with this view, it’s insanely affordable pleasure.


In Porto (2): dinner at Pedro Lemos with astonishing wines

Teresa and Vitor outside Pedro Lemos

It was great to eat at Pedro Lemos, considered by many to be Porto’s top restaurant. We dined with Vitor Bento and his wife Teresa. Vitor is an Airbus 330 pilot and a complete wine nut. When he’s not on duty, he’s usually eating and drinking well in Porto, New York or Rio. He supplied the wines last night, as a sort of tribute to our mutual friend Dirk Niepoort, who he’d dubbed The Master.

The evening was a remarkable succession of great food and incredible wines. The restaurant itself has an atmosphere of assured calm, and the service is spot on. Pedro Lemos was founded in 2009 and in 2014 became Porto’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

We began with a new wine. This is from Dirk, and it’s an as yet unnamed white from Quinta do Lombo in Dão, informally called Dão Coche. This is pithy, waxy, linear and mineral with real finesse. Very Niepoort in style: lean, elegant, with tension.

We had this with shrimp, caramelized cauliflower and citrus.

This was followed by the actual Coche, from the 2014 vintage. This bottle took a while to get going, but emerged with a taut, mineral personality, hints of apple and lemons, fine spiciness and a bit of nuttiness.

Next course was a quail dish, in two parts. First, a quail bouillon, and then a quail tartlet with onions and carrots.

The following course was delicious. Caramelized foie gras with brioche and some pear, served with a Madeira wine.

Barbeito Ribeiro Real Vedelho 20 Years Old, Madeira
So aromatic and fine with citrus, citrus pith, marmalade and peach notes. Has good structure and intensity with lovely bite. So intense. 96/100

Seared tuna was the next course, served with enoki mushrooms, onions and wasabi, and dashi sauce. This was a brilliant dish.

Niepoort Redoma Branco 1996 Douro, Portugal
This wine! What a surprise! So complex, showing a citrus fruit core with ripe apple notes. Hints of marmalade and honey. Refined and pure like an aged Grand Cru white Burgundy. Finishes with briny notes and hints of cabbage. 96/100

Next course: Atlantic croaker (a fish that’s sort of like sea bass), with white asparagus, fennel and clams.

Pingo Doce Douro Reserva 1992 Portugal
This wine was made by Dirk Niepoort for a supermarket, but it’s actually pretty serious, and was priced highly at the time. It has aged beautifully. Deep in colour, this is structured and fine with lovely freshness and weight. Finely spiced with some herbs, and notes of earth, iodine and blood. So supple, and still has a lot of fruit. 94/100

Niepoort Calderera Mencia Bierzo 2011 Spain
Made by Dirk Niepoort. This is very fine and pure with red cherry and plum fruit. Fresh with nice brightness. Silky and delicious with a sappy edge. Such purity and focus. 95/100

Niepoort Clos de Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal
Supple and fresh with sweet red cherries and plums. So fine and fresh with focus and brightness, a redcurrant quality, and lovely elegance and linearity. Has shed its excessive reduction so well. 94/100

The next course was the pigeon that Pedro Lemos is famous for. This was amazing. And it was followed by an astonishing run of wines.

Niepoort Pisca Vintage Port 2007 Douro, Portugal
Dense and structured with sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit. This has some slight earthy spiciness adding a savoury dimension, as well as some saltiness. Amazing depth here with good structure. 95/100

Cockburn’s Vintage Port 1938 Douro, Portugal
This is truly sensational, and one of the best old Vintage Ports I’ve experienced. Still has good colour. So supple, fine and fresh with elegant red cherry fruit and lively spiciness. Vibrant, pure and linear with good structure. Pretty much perfect. 98/100

Araújo Malvasia MMV 1895 Madeira
This is from Barbeito, and the initials are those of Ricardo’s mother who found the wine. So complex and intense, with astonishing flavours of treacle, spice, herbs, marmalade, lemons and citrus peel. High acidity counters the sweetness. Such length and complexity: it’s impossible to do this wine justice in words. 99/100

Niepoort 30 Years Old Tawny, Douro, Portugal
Bottled in 2017. Concentrated and lively and vital with marmalade, spice, citrus peel and some raisin and cask richness. Incredible complexity and balance. 95/100

Niepoort VV Old Tawny Port, Douro, Portugal
Bottled in 2012 to celebrate the 170th anniversary of Niepoort. 999 bottles made. The base of this blend is a port from 1863 aged in casks and then put into demijohns in 1972. It’s almost perfect. So refined and complex with intensity yet also good focus. Spice, marmalade, peach, herbs, nuts and old furniture, with a twist of raisin and orange peel. Astonishing stuff, and, once again, very hard to capture in words. 98/100


In Porto, such a photogenic city

I’m in Porto for a few days. It’s such a photogenic city. Here are some pictures.

Wellington Wine Country, NZ (1) Dry River

I first visited Martinborough just over eight years ago, and now I was back. Part of the Wairarapa, it has been an important region for Pinot Noir in New Zealand, but of late has flown under the radar a bit. Martinborough itself is a lovely place to spend some time. It’s incredibly compact, and you could realistically spend a day visiting some of the top producers, walking from one to another. The Wairarapa wine region has now been renamed as Wellington Wine Country. The problem with Wairarapa is that for marketing purposes, it’s far too close to Waipara, the main valley in the North Canterbury wine region. The sentiment among many of the producers I visited is that they are willing to give Wellington Wine Country a go, but everyone needs to get behind it to make this stick.

Pinot Noir, old vine, planted 1981

One of my favourite visits back in 2010 was with Dry River, one of New Zealand’s most famous boutique wineries. Things have changed a bit here since then, but the wines are still just as good, and just as hard to get your hands on. Wilco Lamm, the winemaker, was out of town, so I tasted with Sarah Bartlett, the marketing and communications manager. Sarah was great, and she even showed me around the winery, which is much smaller than you’d expect.

Home block, 1981

Now there are 11.5 hectares of vineyards in three vineyards: Lovat, Craighall and Dry River Estate Block. The viticulture here has changed a bit. The Extenday (the white fabric used previously to reflect sunlight back into the canopy) has gone, and Dry River is in conversion to Organics (it will be certified in 2019).

We had a look at the vineyard. 1979 saw the first plantings here, and the Pinot Noir we looked at was planted in 1981.

From 2017, the winemaking is all with indigenous yeasts. I the past Dry River have been criticised in some quarters for being quite interventionist, but in truth, these wines do age well and are quite beautiful, young and old. The public agrees: half of the production is now sold to the mail order list. As you can see from my scores, I’m a big fan of these wines.

Dry River Riesling Craighall Vineyard 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
$47. Refined, concentrated and quite mineral with lovely citrus, wax and savoury spiciness. Compact and taut, and bone dry, with lovely intensity to the fruit. Lovely wine, especially considering the vintage, but this was picked before the crazy rain event. 94/100

Dry River Chardonnay 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
$65. Good concentration with lovely nuts, spice and minerals. Has some bready depth here with lovely mouthfeel. Nice focus with some appley notes under the pear and white peach fruit. Assured and quite refined with good acidity and focus, as well as some depth. Released to mail order list and sold out in five hours! 93/100

Dry River Gewurztraminer Lovat Vineyard 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Such lovely aromatics with lychee, baked apple and some rose petal. Nice texture and weight on the palate with sweet pear and melon hints and a fine spiciness. Lovely detail to this wine. 93/100

Dry River Gewurztraminer Lovat Vineyard Botrytis Bunch Selection 2018 Martinborough, New Zealand
Just 1000 bottles made. Intense and concentrated with lovely sweet spiciness. Apricot, peach and pear with some table grape. Very spicy, with richness and sweetness and a long finish. Such complexity and balance. 97/100

Dry River Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
$100. There’s a purity and intensity to this wine with focused raspberry and cherry fruit. Linear, very correct and very pure with good concentration and structure. Such precision to this wine: it’s ripe but incredibly balanced and should age beautifully, with a bit of crunch to the raspberry fruit. Delivers pleasure now but has promise for the future. 96/100

Dry River Pinot Noir 2011 Martinborough, New Zealand
Supple and sappy with lovely red cherries on the nose. Fine and really elegant with a stony, mineral detail and absolute precision. Ageing beautifully with incredible refinement and fresh red cherry and raspberry fruit. 96/100

Dry River The Twelve Spies 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
$65. This is a red blend that’s 50% Pinot, 25% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah. Lovely floral, expressive nose with fine red fruits and some white pepper. The palate is fresh, vivid and detailed with lovely sappy red cherries and raspberries. Lovely pure berry fruits are the main theme. Has a hint of pepper spice and incredible freshness and purity. Superb stuff. 95/100


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Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012

Nice to try the new Grand Vintage from Moët. Last release was 2009 in 2017, so there’s been quite a jump to 2012. It’s really good, despite the slightly up and down growing season.

Champagne Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012 France
12.5% alcohol. 41% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Meunier, 33% Pinot Noir. Dosage 5 g/litre. Disgorged February 2018. The 74th release from this house. Lovely finesse here. Fruity with sweet citrus and pear notes, as well as some ripe peach and apricot hints. This has depth and generosity, and it’s really accessible, but there’s also some fine toast and bread complexity, and fine nuttiness. There’s a touch of nougat, too. Finishes long and fresh with a lemony tail. It’s rare that Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier are this high in the blend, but they work well here with the relatively low dosage. 92/100 (UK retail c. £45)

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