Reviewing eight British Airways lounge wines

I find myself in the airport lounge with some time to spare, so I thought I’d write notes on the lounge wines. I’m a geek! Destination this time is Japan to investigate the Nagano wine region in more depth. I don’t expect much from lounge wines, because airlines’ wine budgets are very limited, even for business class, these days. But there were some nice surprises here.

Paul Cluver Riesling 2017 Elgin, South Africa
This is lovely. There’s a bit of sweetness perfectly balancing the keen acidity, and pure citrus fruit with a really nice brightness and focus. Good concentration and purity, and should develop well over several years in bottle. 90/100

Crazy Creatures Grüner Veltliner 2017 Kremstal, Austria
Fresh and linear with clean, appealing citrus and melon fruit. There’s even a hint of mint here, with clean, fresh fruit and good acidity. Pleasant, with a touch of grip, but not overly complex. 86/100

Xenna Chenin Blanc 2018 Swartland, South Africa
Vivid, clean and modern with bright, primary pear, tangerine and nectarine fruit, backed up by fresh acidity. A very well made, fruity commercial white wine, but not complex or serious. 84/100

Pez de Rio Macabeo Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Spain
This is light, fresh and fruity with some citrus and pear fruit. A bit dilute, with no real flavour. But perfectly drinkable and clean. 80/100

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Fées Brunes Crozes-Hermitage Syrah 2016 Northern Rhône, France
This is pretty good: a polished, modern expression of Crozes-Hermitage with black cherries, a bit of pepper spice and a sleek blackcurrant note, too. Fruity and easy but with a hint of seriousness. 89/100

Alain Jaume Les Valats Rasteau 2015 Southern Rhône, France
A nice surprise. This is supple, ripe and smooth with nice grainy structure supporting cherry and berry fruits. Quite rich, but harmonious with a chalky edge to the lush, supple black fruit palate. Very stylish: ripe but in balance. 90/100

Cartlidge & Browne Pinot Noir 2015 California
Seductive and sweetly fruited, with a luxurious, slightly jammy cherry and berry fruits core and some slightly charred, toasty oak in the background, with some cedar and clove edges. It’s very ripe and sweet, and quite easy to drink: clearly aiming at sweeter-toothed Pinot lovers, and quite well done in its style. 85/100

Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz 2015 Barossa, Australia
This is concentrated, rich and powerful with lush, sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit, underpinned by notes of tar, spice and pepper. It’s sleek and polished with plenty of ripe, slightly jammy fruit, but it all pulls together quite well, with some harmony and balance. 91/100

 

Domaines Delon: Léoville-Las-Cases, Potensac, Clos du Marquis and Nénin

Jean-Hubert Delon owns four Bordeaux estates, with the Jewel in the crown being second growth Léoville-Las-Cases in Saint-Julien. In addition, he owns Nénin in Pomerol, Clos du Marquis in Saint-Julien, and Potensac in the northern Médoc. I recently attended a masterclass where we were introduced to each of these estates, and tasted through a few wines.

Château Léoville-Las-Cas is a descendent of one of the most ancient left bank estates, and in its time was one of the largest. Originally planted in 1604, it went on to become Domaine de Léoville, covering almost the whole appellation of St Julien. In the French Revolution, the owner, the Lord of Léoville, was forced to flee to Britain and the domain was broken up. A fifth was given to revolutionaries. And Hugh Barton bought a number of plots in 1915, creating Leoville Barton. Some more plots were joined to form Léoville-Poyferre. But the original 55 hectare plot of Las Cases remains. It is separated by a small stream from Latour in Pauillac.

Château Léoville Las Cases 2003 Saint Julien Bordeaux, France
Great concentration and refinement here, despite the heat of the vintage. Has fresh berry and blackcurrant fruit, with grainy, chalky, slightly gravelly structure. Has a supple personality and nice concentration. Plenty of structure, supporting sweet fruit with a warm, generous mid-palate and a long finish. Drink now or over the next five years: showing some development, and while it’s delicious now it might dry a bit. 94/100

Château Léoville Las Cases 1998 Saint Julien Bordeaux, France
This is beautiful: showing some lovely development with sleek, elegant red and black fruits, with a lovely seamless structure. The tannins have melded beautifully, and there are some appealing sappy notes under the fruit. Really luscious and harmonious, drinking fabulously but there’s no need to drink this up. Amazing purity, freshness and precision. 96/100

Château Léoville Las Cases 1989 Saint Julien Bordeaux, France
This is quite mature now, with some herb and earth hints as well as hints of treacle and tar. This is well past its best: is it just a bad bottle? [In which case, why was it being poured at a masterclass?] Dry with notes of iodine, herb and leather. Tastes like old wine. 87/100

Le Petit Lion du Marquis de Las Cases 2009 Saint Julien Bordeaux, France
Second wine, with lots of Merlot in it (71%) and younger Cabernet Sauvignons and Franc. This is ripe and sweetly fruited, but also well structured, with some grip under the grainy, chalky blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There’s a fresh, supple, restrained feel to this wine, which has nice weight and drinkability. Finishes harmonious but also structured. Very stylish with some potential for future development. Not too ripe or weighty, and drinking very well. 93/100

Clos du Marquis is often mistakenly thought of as the second wine of Las Cases, but it’s not. Planted in 1884 by a member of the Delon family, it’s a separate 43 hectare property on very different soils.

Clos du Marquis 2008 Saint Julien, Bordeaux, France
Taut and compact with supple berry fruits and good structure. Some gravel and pencil shaving notes with structured blackcurrant on the palate. Bright and nicely structured with lovely purity and focus. Very fine. 93/100

Clos du Marquis 2003 Saint Julien, Bordeaux, France
This is compact and quite nicely structured, with a core of sweet berry fruits, some cherry notes and good structure. Ripe and harmonious, but still retains freshness. This has elegance and purity, with nice mid-palate richness. Drinking well, despite the heat of the vintage. 93/100

Nénin is the second largest property in the Pomerol appellation with 32 hectares (the average in Pomerol is just 1.5 ha). This is on the clay/gravel plateau of Pomerol, and there’s also one block separate to the main vineyard, called Fugue de Nenin. The winery is new: the property was brought by Delon from his cousins in 1997 and has been modernised. The vineyards have also been restructured and many parts replanted. There are lots of soil and subsoil combinations here.

Château Nénin 2009 Pomerol, Bordeaux
35% new oak, 14-16 months in barrel. This is supple and elegant with ripeness but also finesse and balance. There’s some sweetness to the fruit, with an ease to it. It’s ripe (14.5% alcohol) – atypically so because of the vintage – with some harmonious, slightly Port-like fruit generosity. This is drinking beautifully now. 94/100

 

Potensac is an 84 hectare vineyard planted in a high spot in the northern Médoc that has been in the Delon family for many generations. The hilly mounds that make up most of the vineyard are clay/gravel over a limestone base.

Château Potensac 2014 Médoc, Bordeaux
Located at a high point in the northern Médoc. 40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Franc and a touch of Petit Verdot. This is lovely: it’s fresh, supple and structured with bright blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with good acidity and grainy, grippy structure. It’s really fresh and well defined with bright acidity. Lovely balance here with some fine sappy notes. Classic, structured, yet has flesh. 94/100

 

 

 

Are wine recommendations important?

Every now and then I get a request from a student of wine to answer some questions for a dissertation of some kind. I try my best to answer, but one way of justifying the time spent is then to use my answers in the form of a blog post, which is what I’m doing here. In this case, the theme was the importance of wine recommendations. These are my answers.

What do you believe the key influencer is for consumers when purchasing wine (is critics and recommendations one of these)?

It really depends on which consumers we are talking about, and in which markets. For involved consumers who have quite an interest in wine, then I think critic ratings have some relevance. Producers and retailers often use third-party recommendations as a marketing tool, and here they can be quite effective. Keen wine nuts will also read critic opinions and perhaps bear these in mind, too. In the UK, non-involved consumers are unlikely to come across critic scores and reccomendations, but they might well see competition medals and newspaper write-ups at point of sale, and there are some data indicating that International Wine Challenge medal stickers, for example, cause an upward trend in sales in supermarkets.

How important do you believe recommendations are?

I don’t have firm data, but I think that they have a strong role to play for both involved and non-involved consumers. The market is so highly fragmented with thousands of different wines, which makes choosing a wine hard. It’s almost impossible for most people to try before they buy (an exception would be shops that have inert gas dispensing machines where customers can try a small sample first, which I think is brilliant), so any guidance is useful. This might be the consumer’s familiarity with a region and then trust in the regional brand (such as Chablis or Sancerre or Barolo), or knowledge of a producer of merit (for example Penfolds or Cloudy Bay or Torres), or point of sale guidance (a medal score, newspaper mention or critic score). One other valuable recommendation is a personal one, where there is help from a sommelier or a knowledgeable staff member in a wine store or shop. I personally love the idea of developing a relationship with a caviste or wine shop, where your palate and journey are known and the recommendations can be personally tabled. I should also mention here the wine apps: these can be quite useful, although the problem is they rely on a group average score, and so many interesting wines will be penalized as some love them while others hate them.

How do you think critics and recommendations in the wine trade and for consumers have changed? And why?

I think the big difference has been the emergence of the internet and its role in wine sales. I mentioned above the rise of of wine apps, which can provide useful information. And for shopping online, many wine retail sites allow customers to leave their own reviews. These aren’t perfect, but they are better than nothing. In the future, there might be more of an impact of Instagram, for instance – people may be able to go straight from a post to a wine retailer that offers that wine, even if there is no commercial connection between the original post and the retailer.

Do you recommendations work differently for the on trade and off trade?

The on-trade often has the big advantage of staff who know their list and who are able to offer guidance. In most off-trade settings there isn’t this personal connection.

Do you think recommendations aid sales?

Yes, there seems to be evidence that in some situations third party endorsements can help sell wine. But as well as the direct influence on the consumer, we must also remember the effect of expert recommendations on the trade gatekeepers. For a consumer to purchase a wine, it has to be in front of them. In a restaurant setting consumers can only choose from what is listed. In a shop, the wine has to be on the shelf in front of them. How does the wine get there? In many cases the important role of writers and critics is in influencing the trade. I’ve often travelled, discovered a new wine, and then helped that winery connect with the appropriate UK importer. And I know that lots of trade people read my stuff. While they will never buy without trying, the weight of opinion of well travelled writers and journalists with good palates can help influence trade decisions, which is a hard thing to quantify, but an influence that I think matters a good deal. It works the other way, too: I often use the judgment of skilled buyers and importers whose palates I respect to help whittle down the wineries I visit when I travel.

Where do you believe most consumers hear recommendations?

It varies: at point of sale, through newspapers and magazines, on wine apps, on social media, and for the very high involvement consumers, through newsletter subscriptions. Then there’s also the very important face-to-face interaction with sommeliers and wine shop staff. But most in terms of numbers? I think that’s still at point of sale.

Any other information which you believe may be helpful for my dissertation on the future of critics and use of recommendations?

I’d just emphasize the importance of distribution. People can only buy the wine that is in front of them, and I’d imagine that in terms of quantity, most wine is sold independently of a recommendation. So we mustn’t forget the importance of those conversations within the wine trade, where recommendations and community judgments of quality influence buying decisions that determine which wines consumers are going to find in front of them.

Taylor's Single Harvest (Colheita) Ports: 1964, 1969 and 1863

Port house Taylor’s have begun releasing Colheita Ports. They label these ‘single harvest’, which is an English way of saying that they are Tawny Ports, matured in wood, from a single vintage. The release program, now in its 6th year, has focused on selling wines that are 50 years old, so that people can buy them to celebrate this momentous birthday with a birth year wine. It’s a clever idea, and the good thing is that because Tawny Ports are aged for a long time in cask and then bottled just before sale, you know the wine will be in a good condition – there shouldn’t be any bad bottles. They are priced around £200 each.

But there’s also been a relase of the 1863 vintage, which is a special opportunity to connect with the past. The world was very different then. And it was before phylloxera reached the Douro. What I would give to be transported back for a day or two just to see how different things were then (although I’m not altogether sure that the Douro of 1969 would be all that changed from 1863).

[One of the advantage of these wines matured for a long time in wood is that they are stable and won’t oxidise, which means it is possible to decant them into glass vials and send them as tasting samples. These wines were all sampled this way.]

The 1863, from the last great vintage before phylloxera hit the Douro, is an astonishing wine, and retails for around £3000. In those days, Port didn’t have the current classification into Vintage and Tawny.

Taylor’s Single Harvest Port 1969
Warm, rich and tarry on the nose with raisin and treacle. The palate is very sweet, raisiny and rich with a soft texture and lovely richness. Luxurious, complex and broad. Seamless and with a long finish. Very sweet. 93/100

Taylor’s Single Harvest Port 1964
This was the first of the single harvest releases. Sweet, warm and spicy with some tarry hints, some steeped raisins, a bit of date and some fresh bite on the finish. Complex, rich and showing some freshness, this has layers to it. A lovely wine that has developed beautifully. 95/100

Taylor’s Single Harvest Port 1863
Originally from the cellars of Wiese & Krohn, who were purchased by the Taylor group (the Fladgate Partnership). Deep brown in colour. This has astonishing complexity, with real intensity to the tar, spice, treacle, raisin and herb notes. A little goes a long way: the wine seems to explode on the palate with keen acidity and a wonderful savoury dimension, as well as some raisiny sweetness. The finish is eternal. No off-notes here, despite the age. Has a balsamic quality, too. Quite thrilling. 97/100 (Link here)

 

Central Otago (10) Rudi Bauer and Quartz Reef

Rudi Bauer, Quartz Reef

It was great to spend some time with one of the pioneering figures of Central Otago wine, Rudi Bauer. Fresh off the plane from the UK, I picked up a car, drove to Cromwell, checked into my accommodation and then spent four hours talking, tasting and walking through vineyards with him.

 

When Rudi began working for Rippon in 1989, he was the first qualified winemaker and viticulturist in the region. At that time, Central Otago was just a baby, as wine regions go: it was only two years after the first release of a commercial wine from Central. Rudi was working Black Ridge and William Smith, as well as Rippon. And in Gibbston, there was Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley and Terramea, who were looked after by Rob Hay. There were no vineyards in the Cromwell Basin, now the largest part of Central.

The Quartz Reef vineyard – the main block

Rudi first came here while he was cycling around South Island, and he met a girl, who’s now his wife. This, as well as the beauty of the place, is why he decided to move here, after doing a vintage with Simi in Sonoma with Zelma Long.

Looking back up the vineyard

While he was working for Rippon, Rudi began looking around for potential vineyard sites. In 1990, he identified one in Bendigo, but it wasn’t until almost a decade later that he bought it. Bendigo is the warmest sub-region of Central Otago, on the opposite side of the lake from Lowburn and Pisa, with Bannockburn to the south and Wanaka to the north. It’s named after the Bendigo in Victoria, Australia: many of the gold miners here had previously been mining in Bendigo, and brought the name with them.

The view from Bendigo over towards the Pisa Range

For four years, 1993-1997, Rudi worked for Giesen at their original winery in Burnham near Christchurch in Canterbury. But the purchase and planting of his own vineyard, the first in Bendigo, was to bring him back to Central. ‘I spent a lot of time looking at the soil types,’ says Rudi. ‘The soil was OK. Then we collected weather data, which was difficult to get, but I got hold of the weather data from when they did the study on the Clyde dam. It took us a while to find water, and then there was the selection of which clones to plant and which rootstock. Then a big question for me was how to translate my experience from Europe, California and Oregon to the conditions here.’

Bendigo

A cross section showing the soil profile here

The soil

Quartz

The main vineyard is a 15 hectare north-facing slope, with clay, fine gravel and quartz soils. He began planting this in 1998. It was initially planted with Pinot Noir (clones 10/5, 5, 115, 667, 777 & Abel), with a planting density of between 3500 to 8000 vines per hectare. Later on, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay were added, and then more recently some Gruner Veltliner was added. Next to this is another 15 hectare block which is used to make sparkling base. ‘What I have learned from the land is that it is a much better site than I expected,’ says Rudi, ‘but also that it is a much more difficult site to understand.’

Rudi in his biodynamic shed

The preps are stored under these hatches

These barrels are where the preps are dynamized by hand

Since 2007 he’s been farming with biodynamics, but the journey towards this was an interesting one. ‘I came to New Zealand and the first thing I did when I arrived at Rippon was to sell their herbicides,’ he recalls. ‘The first thing I did when I bought Quartz Reef was to buy herbicides. This tells you two things. One, it is very easy to spend someone else’s money, and two I was so overwhelmed about this site. I had all the three Ws: lack of water, lots of wind and heaps of weeds.’ In addition, mechanical weeding was challenging because there were lots of rocks in the vineyard. But he was still keen on the idea of biodynamics. ‘Finally, after being pregnant for nine years, in 2007 we made the call and from one day to another, we converted the whole lot and never looked back.’

Quartz Reef produces 10-12 000 cases of wine per year altogether, with 5000 of that being sparkling.

The Pinots are lovely wines, and over the years they have become more refined, with better tannins. ‘I always like Pinots with structure,’ says Rudi. ‘But now our structural element is built of titanium, and not stainless steel. It’s lighter; there’s elegance; it’s stronger. You can feel the structure, but it’s not as obvious, as with stainless steel.’

Quartz Reef NV Central Otago, New Zealand
This is a blend of 72% Pinot Noir and 28% Chardonnay, based on the 2017 vintage, with 4 g/l dosage. Lovely focus here: there’s a bit of citrus pith with some nice linear citrus fruit. Crisp and focused with lovely precision. Has nice brightness and a faint creamy, toasty richness. Good intensity and concentration. 91/100

Quartz Reef Vintage Blanc de Blancs 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
91% Chardonnay and 9% Pinot Noir, 3.3 g/l dosage. Lovely notes of cream and toast, with nice freshness and purity, as well as some richer notes. Shows pear, citrus and a bit of apple fruit. Drinkable and pure with nice complexity. 92/100

Quartz Reef Rosé NV Central Otago, New Zealand
This is all from 2016. 3.3 g/l dosage. Creamy hints and nice cherry fruit with some notes of rosehip syrup. There’s some strawberry richness too. Very drinkable with nice weight and freshness. ‘It’s a fun person that likes to party, but their feet are still firmly on the ground,’ says Rudi. 90/100

All Rudi’s whites are pressed with a Champagne cycle that yields just 550 litres a ton: there is no press cut. They go to tank and after a day’s racking they are fermented with indigenous yeasts. After fermentation they sit on their lees for 9 months without stirring.

Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Gruner Veltliner 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Generous nose with some pear and nectarine fruit, with some sweet melon notes. Lovely concentration and texture on the palate. Bold with ripe stone fruits. Nicely textured. 92/100

Quartz Reef Pinot Gris 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Nice depth here: ripe apple and sweet pear, with some tangerine and apricot. ‘Pinot Gris is about texture, texture, texture,’ says Rudi. ‘I see out Pinot Gris as having a Germanic approach, but looking across the Rhine to Alsace.’ This has nice depth of flavour: it’s rich but still focused with a bit of grip on the finish. 92/100

Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Rosé 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
Skin contact in the press to get colour, wild ferment. Dry. Nice cherry and strawberry fruit with good acidity and focus. It’s very appealing with some freshness and depth of flavour. 89/100

Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh and sweetly fruited with lovely texture. There’s nice depth here: sweet raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of raspberry bite. Tends to elegance with a bitter plum twist on the finish. Seductive but focused. 93/100

Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh, supple and rounded with sweet red cherry and raspberry fruit. Has nice polish and texture but also good structure and acidity. Ripe, expressive, elegant and grown up. 94/100

Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Each year Rudi keeps the ferments separate, and the one that expresses the vintage best is bottled separately. This year it was a six-barrel lot. Smooth, sleek and quite polished with nice rounded tannins under the elegant black cherry and blackberry fruit. Assured with grainy structure and a hint of creaminess. 94/100

Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Concentrated and broad with nice sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with depth and intensity. Very assured with lovely texture and some savoury notes. There are some hints of oak, but they are fully integrated. A refined wine. 95/100

Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Sweet and ripe. Quite dark with a hint of tar and some spice. Nice sweet black cherry fruit here. Generous but also structured. 94/100

There’s a new-ish Pinot Noir, first made in 2015 from a corner of the vineyard that is very stony with glacial moraine material. It’s given a different name each year.

Quartz Reef Franz Ferdinand Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Generous but elegant with ripe, sweet berry fruits and some red cherry focus. There’s a bit of sour cherry, too. Lovely structure. Very fine-grained and delicious. Layered. 95/100

Quartz Reef Otto Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely stuff: juicy and fine with purity and depth, and a nice sour cherry hint as well as ripe berry fruits. Nice acid, too. Delicious but serious with it, and the firmness in the structure indicate potential for development. 95/100

 

 

Two from Handford: Schaal Confluence and Garnacha not Guerra

I popped into Handford Wines yesterday to say hello to Greg Sherwood, and have a look round. If there is a merchant in London who has a better array of really interesting wine, then I’d like to see it (and London is full of good wine merchants). Greg opened a couple of bottles to taste with me.

The first was the latest release from Mick O’Connell, who is based in Dublin, but makes small quantities of Grenache in Sardinia. He called previous vintages Garnacha not Guerra, but got told off for using the word Garnacha on the label (here’s my review of the 2015, with some background, and this is my review of the 2016). This year it is G. n. Guerra! Hanford get half (they still have 2016 on the shelf right now) and Carte Blanche get the other half.

Cancedda O’Connell G. n. Guerra 2017 Vino Rosso
Grenache from Sardinia at 700 m. Organic. This is 2017 but it’s not mentioned on the label. Whole cluster, foot trodden, 14% alcohol. This is grippy and fresh with nice detail and some herb and spice notes. This has a bit of funk with some pepper and meat, Rosemary and sage. It’s dense and structured but also quite fresh with cherries and spice. There’s a lot of structure here and it may evolve in an interesting direction. 93/100

The second was a Chardonnay from Julien and Sophie Schaal, who divide their time between Alsaca and the Western Cape. This wine – exclusive to Handford in the UK – is stunning. It’s chiselled and precise.

Julien Schaal Confluence Chardonnay 2017 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
13% alcohol. Very tight, lemony and mineral with lovely focus and intensity. Stony, youthful, vivid and precise with a zesty edge to the linear citrus, pear and green apple fruit. This is a serious effort that should age beautifully. 95/100 (£24.95 Handford)

Rathjen Cellars Wine Bunker Red 2016 Vancouver Island

Canada makes some great wines these days. We have the major regions: Niagara and Prince Edward County in Ontario; Nova Scotia; and the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in BC. But there are also some smaller regions, including Vancouver Island. This is a really smart wine from the island, which has a very cool climate. It’s a new one for me. Thanks to Treve Ring for the taste.

Rathjen Cellars Wine Bunker Red 2016 Vancouver Island, Canada
13.3% alcohol. From Mike Rathjen, this is a blend of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Regent and Foch grapes, grown in the Cowichan Valley and the Saanich Peninsula on Vancouver Island. Deep in colour, this is vivid and fruit-driven with sweet cherries, plums and blackberries. It’s compact, with good acidity and some tannic structure. It finishes fresh, crunchy and vital. Reasonably full bodied and dense with lots of flavour. We gave this a silver medal at the National Wine Awards of Canada in 2018, and I think we got this right. Encouraging to see wines like this coming from the island. 90/100

 

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2017: amazingly successful, but how good is it?

I’m in the Star Alliance lounge at LAX, having just showered, getting ready for another 12 h in the air. I check out the lounge wines. On offer, Meiomi Pinot Noir. This is a very successful brand. It is huge in the USA, yet virtually invisible in the UK.

The background is beautifully summarised here in a VinePair article by Emily Saladino. Read this and you can see why I’m interested to try this wine again with an open mind (my only previous experience was blind at the Judgment of BC, where 30 professionals unanimously ranked it last in a line up). It’s a hard wine to review. I’m aware that the consumer champions will be looking for any negative comments I make so they can dismiss me as a wine snob. And many of my professional colleagues will be looking for any positive comments, so they can beat me up for giving a big brand an easy ride (some pros do this: there’s marketing money in the big wine brands, after all).

A few points, first. Success – both in terms of commercial success and popularity – are vital, of course, but it doesn’t mean that the product is of good quality in terms of professional aesthetic appraisal. Clearly, by the sensible definition of quality – fitness for purpose – this is a high quality wine, because it meets the expectations of its consumers, just as the Daily Mail (I won’t hyperlink this UK tabloid newspaper, it would hurt me) meets the expectations of its readers. If you are building a wine brand, then Meiomi is the ultimate success story. Many of us focus too much on the sensory properties of the product at the commercial end of the market.

Second, this vintage, the 2017, gets a very high rating from Vivino users – 4.1. This tells you quite a bit about the usefulness of following Vivino ratings.

Third, retailing at $20-25 in the USA, if this was imported into the UK, the shelf price would be about £20 and it would sell very few bottles indeed. The UK is a crowded market and there’s lots of more Pinot-like Pinot here in that price range.

Fourth, by stating my view on this wine, I’m not criticising anyone’s taste. I’m merely saying that if you are interested in my professional opinion, here it is. It’s an opinion based on a lot of experience and comparative tasting, and a well trained palate. I’m not expecting everyone to agree. I don’t like this wine for reasons that I explain below. If, as a professional, you think this is a good wine (I’m not talking about a clever, commercially successful wine), then I disagree. If, as a consumer you think this is a good wine, then please keep enjoying it. If you decide you are interested in what the wine community of judgement thinks, then I’m happy to suggest that at this price, there are wines that I consider to be better quality and less tricked-up out there.

So why does it sell so well? It’s accessible. Novice wine palates in the US clearly enjoy the flavour spectrum it presents, with the sweetness and the oak character. It is well packaged with a nice screwcap (Guala WAK I think: one that doesn’t show the ridges. Looks so much better). It is well distributed. It has a native American name that sounds exotic, but which is easy to pronounce.

So here’s my tasting note

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2017 California
This smells of oak spice, cedar, coffee and distant bonfires. Clearly a lot of oak products used here. The palate is sweetly fruited and quite pleasant, but there’s a strongly savoury clove, cedar and coffee edge to it that prevents it from being too Pinot-like or elegant. There are sweet berry fruits, and it finishes sweet, but the clove and cedar grip, together with a twist of bitterness, really get in the way. It tastes of process: all the winemaking (the label declares that a light hand was used in the cellar; in which case, I shudder to think of what a heavy hand might achieve). Novice wine drinkers might like the cappuccino-like quality, just as in South Africa coffee Pinotage was a bit of a hit, but it really isn’t very nice if you like wine, and you like Pinot Noir. It fits a consumer segment, and I understand that, but I wouldn’t drink it, and neither would any of my friends and colleagues. A remarkable success story in the USA, though. 83/100

 

The First Date natural wine bar pop-up at Cupple Coffee, Hastings, NZ

On Saturday night, travelling companions Mel Brown, David Brookes and I popped into a natural wine bar pop-up First Date at Cupple Coffee in Hastings, Hawkes Bay. This was billed as Hawke’s Bay’s first natural wine bar event, and so we were really keen to check it out.

Food was from Restaurant Chimera, who are Auckland based but specialise in pop-up events. It was really good, although they’d run out of a few things by 7.30 pm.

The wines were a mix of natural things from Hawke’s Bay, plus some other Kiwi naturals, plus some international references. We drank really well. New Zealand needs a stronger natural/authentic wine scene, and it’s good to see it emerging.

This Pinot Gris is from Amy Farnsworth, and it’s made with no added sulphites. It’s a skin contact wine and it’s delicious and expressive. Organic.

The Huntress is made by Janine Rickards, winemaker at Urlar in Wellington Wine Country. Janine likes to hunt. This, her Huntress 2018 ‘Waikura’ Rosé, is a relatively dark wine with lots of intense fruit. Lots of colour from whole-cluster ferment. Impressive and food compatible.

Halcyon Days: a collaborative effort from husband and wife team Amy Hopkinson-Styles and Ollie Styles. Somewhat coloured, cloudy rosé style with lots of perfume, grainy intensity and some structure. Delicious stuff.

This needs little introduction: so intensely juicy, grainy and smashable with incredible fruit intensity. Really lovely stuff.

This was being sold below retail. It’s very approachable and elegant. My note

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Sweet, ripe and textured with silky, fine strawberry and red cherry fruit. Such a seamless wine with fine grained structure and some herby notes. Lovely acid line, too. Very subtle green characters in the background bring out the fine fruitiness. 94/100

 

‘Minus 220’ refers to the fact that theres no E220 (sulfur dioxide) added. From Hayden Penny of the Supernatural Wine Co, this is fabulous. My note:

Supernatural Skin Fermented Sauvignon Blanc Minus 220 2018 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This has no added sulphites, and displays lovely perfumed melon and apricot fruit with some spice, and textured pear and citrus fruit. So lovely. 93/100

 

Mel and Brookesy. Top travelling companions.

Central Otago (9) Grasshopper Rock

It’s five years since I last visited Grasshopper Rock (see the full profile here), a small vineyard in the Alexandra district of Central Otago. Back in 2014 I commented that they were making some of the best value Pinots in the region. And they key to their success is that when Phil Handford and his consortium set out, they got the important bit right first time: the vineyard. The 7.8 hectares of vines were planted in 2003, and all was planted to Pinot Noir. Phil considers this to be the equivalent of a Grand Cru site, so wants to focus on what the place has a talent for. ‘Cool, slow, late ripening,’ says Phil: ‘this is what this site gives.’ In establishing the site he worked with Steve Moffitt, the brother of Mike who is his vineyard manager. ‘The Moffitts were growing grapes here in the late 1990s and were involved with developing a few of the early small vineyards,’ says Phil. ‘Now I don’t think I’d change anything.’

We tasted through a full vertical of the wines back to the debut vintage in 2006. Phil takes the caps off the bottle and seals them with a DIAM, and then uses Coravin for the older wines.

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2006 Central Otago
Warm year with big bunches. Some brick red round the edges. Has some savoury development here with some soy and earth notes as well as a grainy, tannic structure. There’s some red cherry and plum fruit, but the overall impression is one of savouriness. Drink soon. 91/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2007 Central Otago
Cold year with small bunches and berries. Spicy, earthy, savoury nose. Some iron and beetroot notes. The palate is savoury and developed with earth and spice, and some old leaf notes, too. Grippy finish. 89/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2008 Central Otago
Savoury and detailed on the nose with a herb and spice character, as well as some undergrowth. The palate has some bright cherry and raspberry fruit with savoury, grainy structure and a touch of iodine, finishing with some fruit sweetness. Grippy finish. 90/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2009 Central Otago
Orange hints on the rim. This has some development with hints of leaf and earth. There’s a juicy citrus fruit edge to the palate with bright cherry and redcurrant fruit. Nicely bright with savoury development. Quite firm structure still. 91/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2010 Central Otago
Fresh and supple with nice sweet red cherry and raspberry fruit, with some savoury, spicy characters underneath. It’s nicely balanced with some brightness to the fruit, but also some appealing development. 92/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2011 Central Otago
A very warm year with big bunches, not highly regarded at the time. Quite pale in colour with some development, but also a lovely harmony on the palate. Smooth and elegant with fine tannins and a sense of harmony. This has real detail and prettiness to it. Lovely fruit expression. 93/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2012 Central Otago
Cool year: good flowering but then a long tail to the season. Sweetly aromatic with nice cherry fruit but also some savoury development. Notes of iodine, spice and earth with a bit of grip. Has nice brightness and focus. Hints of leaf decay add interest. Nice refinement, with a bright finish. Drink now. 91/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2013 Central Otago
Good average year. Lovely aromatics here: floral cherry fruit with delicacy and some green sappy hints. Shows freshness and elegance with light, bright red cherry and cranberry notes. Good acidity and nicely integrated tannins. Lovely harmony to this wine, which seems to be drinking at peak now. 94/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2014 Central Otago
Warm start, excellent flowering, with a very cool January. Supple with a slight sour cherry and rubber edge to the structured red fruits palate. It has good acidity and firm structure, with some juiciness and also a slightly stern savoury streak. Some raspberry bite, too. A taut, quite complex wine with an austere side to it. 92/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2015 Central Otago
Cool start to the season but with one of the warmest Januarys ever. This shows great concentration of sweet, vibrant fruit with a vivid raspberry core. Crunchy with some sour cherry and plum, and a redcurrant brightness. Vivid and focused with quite a bit of grip on the finish. Rich and structured. 94/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2016 Central Otago
Cool until January with poor fruit set, then the hottest ever February. Highly aromatic with some roast coffee, raspberry and cherry on the nose. The palate is elegant, fleshy, but with plenty of flavour, showing spice and coffee notes alongside vivid cherry and plum fruit. There’s some grippy structure and good acidity, but it hides under the fleshy, vibrant red fruits. Maybe a bit peppery, too. 93/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2017 Central Otago
Coolest vintage in 17 years, with smaller bunches and berries, but then towards the end of the season it was nicely warm. Deep in colour. Seductive, sweet black cherry fruit nose with perfume and intensity. The palate is really fresh and vivid with sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit, and nice bright acidity. This is a complex, fresh, dark-fruited expression of Pinot. Needs time to resolve. 93/100

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