Wines of the year (4) some brilliant French wines


Continuing the theme of wines of the year, I’ve picked some of the very best French wines that I tasted in 2016, excluding Champagnes and older wines, which I wrote about separately. So many good bottles here, including a strong showing from Beaujolais, which may surprise some people.

Richard Leroy Les Rouliers Chenin 2012 Vin de France
Amazingly intense matchstick nose is mineral and taut with citrus, flint and spice. The palate has ripe apple, spice and pear with lovely bright citrus notes. Complex and detailed with amazing integrated reductive mineral notes. So expressive. 95/100

Thierry Germain Domaine des Roches Neuves Clos Romans Saumur 2012 Loire, France
13% alcohol. Chenin Blanc from tufa soils. Very spicy, smoky and linear with sweet apple, a hint of hay and bright lemony acidity. Such precision here with an amazing linear focus, and a touch of anise and apple on the finish. Long and profound. 95/100


Lapierre Morgon Côte du Py Cuvée Marcel Lapierre 2014 Beaujolais, France
Beautifully aromatic: pure, floral and sappy with nice ripeness. Silky with a generous, almost liqueur-like cherry note as well as supple raspberry notes. Crisp but with generosity, this is quite beautiful. 96/100

Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte du Py Javernières 2014 Beaujolais, France
This is from a more alluvial part of Côte du Py. Brooding and smooth with pure black cherry, raspberry and red cherry fruit. Amazing finesse on the palate with focused blackcurrant fruit. Amazing finesse. 95/100

Frédéric Berne Morgon Corcelette 2014 Beaujolais, France
From deep pink granite soils, this is elegant yet fresh with liqueur-like richness to the fruit. Complex, with fine, fresh fruit and grippy tannins, as well as a slightly sappy edge. Really pure and elegant with amazing finesse. Finely grained. 95/100


Château Moulin à Vent Croix des Vérillats 2014 Beaujolais, France
Beautifully perfumed with sweet, floral, aromatic sweet black cherry fruit and some raspberries, showing some subtle herbal notes. Beguiling and complex. Lovely concentration here with expressive finely spiced black fruits. Polished but not overly so: thrilling, in a modern style. 95/100


Domaine Piron Lameloise Chenas ‘Quartz’ 2014 Beaujolais, France
From Dominique Piron. Very fresh red fruits nose with some peppery spiciness. Detailed and fresh with some raspberry too. Lovely elegance on the palate, which shows focused red cherry and raspberry fruit with some peppery detail. Floral, fresh and delicious. 95/10

Thillardon Chenas ‘Chassignol’ 2014 Beaujolais, France
Granite and quartz soils make their mark here. Fine, fresh and expressive peppery nose with some sappy red fruits. So pretty. Lively, bright and sappy on the palate with a hint of green and a vivid, peppery, mineral edge to the red fruits. Good acidity and focus to this pure wine. 95/100

Patrick Piuze Chablis Grand Cru Valmur 2010 Burgundy, France
Wonderfully mineral, spicy nose with a bit of nice reduction. Deliciously minerally on the palate with citrus and pear fruit. Subtle creamy notes in the background, but overall this is a powerful, fresh, driven Chablis with a complex, expressive personality. It’s just beautiful. 95/100

Raveneau Montée de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru 2006 Burgundy, France
Very taut and crystalline with lovely finesse to the mineral-driven lemon and pear fruit. Just a hint of creaminess in the background. So pure and fine with some oyster shell character. 95/100

Roulot Meursault Clos des Bouchères 1er Cru Monopole 2012 Burgundy, France
Beautifully taut and mineral with a subtle salty mineral streak and beautiful focus and finesse. Great precision here: a lovely wine. 96

Château Pichon Baron, Pauillac 2012 Bordeaux, France
This is sensational. It’s concentrated and intense with ripe blackcurrant and black cherry fruit supported by beautifully refined chalky tannins. Structured and bold with restraint: while this has enough ripeness, it is also really direct and savoury with lovely precision to the black fruits. There’s amazing balance and concentration here. Still very youthful with taut structure, and real potential for development. Such purity to the fruit, and no rough edges; structured and fine. An astonishingly good expression of this vintage, which I’ve grown to like quite a bit. 96/100

Zind Humbecht Riesling Clos St Urbain Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2014 Alsace, France
Really focused lemony nose. Bright and mineral with real precision and focus, showing pure citrus fruits with well integrated acidity. Quite thrilling. 95/100

albert boxler

Albert Boxler Riesling Sommerberg Grand Cru ‘E’ 2014 Alsace
From a special parcel in the Sommerberg, which is cooler and more stony. Very lively, pure and mineralwith focused citrus and pear fruit, and a bit of white peach richness. Lively and pure with many dimensions. 95/100

Weinbach Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2015 Alsace
This is amazing. From granitic soils. Bright, taut and linear with a stony, mineral edge to the palate, which is tight and lean with lovely acidity and an almost saline character. Such precision and linearity, and real length. 95/100

Domaine Labet Fleur de Savagnin ‘en Chalasse’ 2013 Côtes de Jura, France
From massale selection vines planted in 2003, this is truly remarkable. Fermented and aged in older oak. Complex, lively and citrussy with lovely lemony notes and real concentration and intensity. So fine and distinctive with fine spicy notes and lovely acidity. This is just incredibly beautiful and complex. 95/100

Domaine Labet Chardonnay ‘La Bardette’ 2014 Côtes de Jura, France
13% alcohol, pH 3.01, 10 mg/l total SO2. This is from a small 0.55 ares parcel that spends 18 months in oak, and it’s massale selection Chardonnay. Complex, intense and mineral with lovely crystalline citrus and grapefruit character. Smoky, mineral and bright with a pithy edge and some apple and pear notes. This has a bit of grip, with some fine spiciness and a reductive twist. 95/100

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Time to leave the biodynamic calendar behind? Wine tastes the same on fruit and root days


There’s been a lot of talk about the biodynamic calendar in the wine trade. At wine tastings, it’s not unusual for tasters to start muttering that the wines aren’t showing very well. Then someone whips out their smartphone. ‘I thought so!’ they proclaim. ‘It’s a root day.’

For those unfamiliar with the concept, I’m referring to the biodynamic calendar first developed by an Austrian, Maria Thun (1922-2012). She devised this planting and sowing calendar after she was introduced to the biodynamic farming ideas of Rudolf Steiner in the 1940s.

It uses the relative positions of the moon with regard to the constellation of the planets to determine which days are fruit, root, leaf and flower. As well as being used to time interventions in the vineyard and winery, this calendar is also used as a guide to when wine tastes best. Ideally, you want to drink wine on a fruit/flower day and not on a root/leaf day. Floris publishes an annual version of the Thun calendar as a small book titled When Wine Tastes Best, which is also available as an app.

So established is this notion in the wine trade that many of the leading UK supermarkets use Thus’s calendar to determine when they hold their press tastings.

There have been several informal, small scale tests of the calendar, but these haven’t had the necessary rigour to provide any significant results. But a study just published, led by two very well known researchers, Wendy Parr and Dominique Valentin, has subjected the notion that the biodynamic calendar affects the taste of wine to a proper scientific examination. It shows quite clearly that root days and fruit days have no effect on the way wine tastes.


Expectation or Sensorial Reality? An Empirical Investigation of the Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers

Wendy V. Parr , Dominique Valentin, Phil Reedman, Claire Grose, James A. Green

The study’s aim was to investigate a central tenet of biodynamic philosophy as applied to wine tasting, namely that wines taste different in systematic ways on days determined by the lunar cycle. Nineteen New Zealand wine professionals tasted blind 12 Pinot noir wines at times determined within the biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers as being favourable (Fruit day) and unfavourable (Root day) for wine tasting. Tasters rated each wine four times, twice on a Fruit day and twice on a Root day, using 20 experimenter-provided descriptors. Wine descriptors spanned a range of varietal-relevant aroma, taste, and mouthfeel characteristics, and were selected with the aim of elucidating both qualitative and quantitative aspects of each wine’s perceived aromatic, taste, and structural aspects including overall wine quality and liking. A post-experimental questionnaire was completed by each participant to determine their degree of knowledge about the purpose of the study, and their awareness of the existence of the biodynamic wine drinkers’ calendar. Basic wine physico-chemical parameters were determined for the wines tasted on each of a Fruit day and a Root day. Results demonstrated that the wines were judged differentially on all attributes measured although type of day as determined by the biodynamic calendar for wine drinkers did not influence systematically any of the wine characteristics evaluated. The findings highlight the importance of testing experimentally practices that are based on anecdotal evidence but that lend themselves to empirical investigation.

Full paper is available here.

It’s a carefully done study, and takes into account many confounders. For example, the authors checked that the tasters weren’t aware whether it was a root or fruit day. They also used wines that were from grapes that were conventionally farmed and biodynamically farmed (some might expect biodynamic wines to be more responsive to lunar cycles, for example).

These results don’t suggest that a Thun app wielding believer would see no effect of root days or fruit days on wine. Top-down cognitive effects are quite powerful, as the authors point out in the paper. If you believe it is a fruit day, and believe in the biodynamic calendar, a wine might well taste better to you than it does on a root day. Knowledge shapes perception in powerful ways.

Will this stop people using the biodynamic calendar? I doubt it. If we change our beliefs, it is rarely because someone has presented us with facts.

Also, this doesn’t call into question other aspects of biodynamics, which have a much stronger theoretical basis. Neither does it say anything about using the calendar for planting or other activities in the field. It just shows that lunar effects don’t affect the way that wine tastes.

Wines of the year (3) Portuguese highlights

niepoort bairrada

I visited Portugal four times last year, and that probably wasn’t enough. It’s such a great country, and the wine scene has never been better. I will be back in 2017 for sure. These are some of the absolute highlights from last year.

Niepoort Bical Maria Gomes Vinhas Velhas Branco 2013 Bairrada, Portugal
Had several times, with scores ranging from 94-97. I think the higher score is correct. I even bought this twice in restaurants! This is made in 1000 litre fuders from the Mosel, and spends 3o months without sulfur. Fine, stony and mineral: you can taste the chalky soil influence here. This is a blend of a few vineyards, and it’s lemony, pure and very fresh. So fine. Practically perfect on today’s showing. 97/100

Quinta do Vale Meão Monte Meão Touriga Nacional Granito 2013 Douro, Portugal
The aromatics of the Touriga Nacional from the granit soils on the property didn’t fit the estate wine, so they decided to bottle this plot separately in 2009. It’s beautifully aromatic, pure and vibrant with violet, spice, pepper and olives. So enticing and fresh on the palate with bright, juicy fruit, spice and good tannins. Vibrant, pepper and tannic with pretty black cherry fruit. 95/100


Quinta do Vale Meão 2014 Douro, Portugal
This wine was picked a bit earlier than normal, and some stems were used in the Touriga portion. And there was a bit less new oak. The results are great. Nice depth with sweetly concentrated blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, as well as some black cherry. Ripe with nice structure and some seductive richness, but also freshness and purity. Good structure with fine tannins. This will be sensational in 15 years’ time. 96/100

Quinta Maria Izabel Vinhas Velhas 2014 Douro, Portugal
From a revitalised estate in the Douro that’s now making sensational wines, with a bit of help from Dirk Niepoort. 70% whole bunch, aged in 3000 litre barrels. Smooth with notes of chocolate, spice, fine herbs and black cherry fruit on the nose. Rich, concentrated, focused and fine showing inky, salty, savoury fruit. Structured with good acidity. This is fantastic, showing power and focus, still primary and tannic, but with great potential. 96/100

Niepoort Turris 2013 Douro, Portugal
The first edition was 2012. ‘This is the top of the top,’ says Carlos Raposa, Niepoort’s winemaker. ‘It comes from the oldest vineyard we know in the Douro that’s 130 years old.’ Some of this wine becomes Turris and the rest is going to Batuta. It’s on the right side of the river. Vinified Batuta style in a foudre of 1000 litres. Old foudres from the Mosel. Amazingly fresh and elegant with lovely pure black cherry fruit with some vital, iron, blood and mineral notes. This has such amazing elegance and presence with lovely sanguine character. The acidity is well integrated and there’s a lovely compactness, purity and floral quality to the red fruits. There’s a real spicy, tamed-wild character. Thrilling. 97/100

António Madeira Vinho de Serra 2013 Dão, Portugal
A single vineyard in the Serra d’Estrela foothills. Very fine and expressive with a spicy, savoury, stony edge to the elegant red and black cherry fruit. Lots of acidity, with good acidity. Fresh, focused and elegant with nice finesse and potential for development. Look out also for the Centenaria wine from the same producer, which is stunning. 95/100

Blandy’s 30 Years Bual NV Madeira, Portugal
Current release, and pretty superb. The nose is multifaceted, aromatic and intense. Sweet raisin and treacle aromas merge with savoury nutty, leathery, earthy, woody hints. Concentrated yet light on its feet, this wine has a complex palate of raisin, honey, old casks, treacle, dates and marmalade. Such elegance and complexity. Thought-provoking. 96/100

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Wines of the year (2) older vintages

So, continuing with my theme of wines of the year, I have gone through my notes and pulled out the highlights. This post is concentrating on older wines, pre-2000. I’m well aware that this list looks like a bit of a boast. I apologise. I make an effort to benchmark with established classics and older vintages, because as a wine writer, you need reference points. Since I started writing about wine some of the classics have become ever more expensive, to the point where I can’t justify buying them. For this reason, I’m indebted to friends with cellars who generously share older bottles, and also to producers who pull out older wines when I visit. Most of these wines have been drunk and not just tasted, which is the way it should be. The wines are grouped by region, but are in no particular order.

Chateau Latour

Château Lynch Bages 1981 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
This is truly thrilling. Forget about 1982: on the evidence of this bottle I’m going to be seeking out 1981s Fresh, elegant and aromatic with lovely blackcurrant and black cherry fruit along with some pine and herb characters. Really elegant palate with supple, sappy black fruits. Such a fine wine, with floral black cherry notes and potential for further development. I love the hints of pine, and the slight saltiness on the palate. This is thrilling. 97/100

Vieux Château Certan 1985 Pomerol, Bordeaux
Very fine and elegant with fresh red cherry and plum fruit, as well as fine black cherries. Lovely finesse here with real elegance. It’s a Burgundian Bordeaux. So fine. 97/100

Château Latour 1982 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Such a beautiful nose. Perfumed cherries, blackcurrant, chalk, minerals. The palate is almost perfect: light and expressive, showing elegance yet with good structure beautifully woven into the fine cherry and plum fruit. There’s also a chalky, mineral dimension. Shows almost perfect harmony, with the meeting of youth and maturity in a beautiful place. Still lots of fruit but developing nicely. No hurry to drink this. 98/100 

Château Latour 1978 Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Developed but still has plenty life left in it. Expressive, fine, spicy nose with some smooth chalky notes. Fine grained black cherry and plum fruit. Shows developed finesse. 95/100


Château La Tour Haut Brion 1982 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Mellow, smooth and textural with sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Smooth, broad and rich with lovely depth. Fresh, silky, pure and still with some primary fruit. Fine herbs and nice spiciness add complexity. 96/100


Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2007 Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
Taut grapefruit and lemons with nice spice, and well integrated oak. Linear and focused with real purity and some subtle waxiness. So lovely. 95/100

Château Montrose 1989 Saint-Estephe, Bordeaux, France
Smooth, broad and beautifully textured, showing blackcurrant, some red cherry and a fine spicy core. This is quite lovely: it’s showing some development, but is ageing really well. 96/100

Château Beychevelle 1966 Saint Julien, Bordeaux, France
Earthy, spicy and leathery with some development, but also freshness. Iodine, blood, cherries and undergrowth, with sweetness and texture to the fruit. Lovely older wine. 96/100




De Vogüé Bonnes Mares 1969 Burgundy, France
This is spectacular. Decanted, and chilled down a little, this is a Wine Society bottling, but it was bottled at France, so I’m assuming it was domaine bottled. It’s fresh and bright, with a hint of malty richness on the nose but a pristine, silky palate. The texture is amazing: it’s rich and seamless with elegance meeting power, and the softest structure. Sweet black cherries and plums underpinned by smooth, fine-grained tannins. Ethereal, and 1969 isn’t supposed to be a great year. 97/100

Raveneau Butteaux Chablis 1er Cru 1999 Burgundy, France
Beautifully elegant nose, with citrus, grapefruit, subtle dairy notes and some pear richness. The palate is pure, texture and shows lovely citrus fruit that’s both rounded and linear at the same time. Very fresh for its age and showing lovely development, with a long time still to go. So fine. 95/100

Jacques Frederic Mugnier Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 1990 Burgundy, France
Textured, fine and expressive with real elegance to the sweet black cherry and plum fruit. There are some sweet herbal characters and fine-grained tannins. So supple with a ripe, generous personality and nice depth. 95/100

dujac morey st denis

Domaine Dujac Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Monts Luisants 2011 Burgundy, France
Remarkable: really intense and mineral with a lovely matchstick edge. Intense, focused citrus and pear fruit with a linear personality and real finesse, as well as some briny, salty notes. 96/100




Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie 1999 Northern Rhône, France
(Tasted three times with consistent notes.) This is stunning, and still so fresh. Fine, expressive and meaty with notes of iron and blood as well as black cherries and plums. This is so fine and expressive with lovely citrussy acidity, some iodine and some herbs. 97/100

Dervieux Thaize Côte Rôtie La Vallière 1989 Northern Rhône, France
This was the last vintage of Albert Dervieux before he retired and leased all his vines to Rene Rostaing. This, his top cuvée, comes from the top of the Côte Brune, and it has aged beautifully. Long elevage in large old oak. Pristine and pure with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit, as well as some plumminess. Very expressive and detailed with lovely fruit expression and fine-grained tannins. There’s some pepper and even a hint of olive. So elegant: quite Burgundian in style. This is a really lovely wine. 95/100

Dervieux Thaize Côte Rôtie Côte Blonde ‘La Garde’ 1988 Northern Rhône, France
Beautifully perfumed with fine black cherries, olives and meat, as well as some black pepper. Beautifully aromatic with a lovely palate showing ripe cherry and blackberry frit with iodine, salt, pepper and minerals. 97/100


Chave Hermitage 1988 Northern Rhöne, France
This bottle was pretty much perfect. In beautiful condition and still a deep, primary colour. Lovely detailed black cherries, spice, tar, pepper and meat notes, as well as some tea leaves and citrus peel. It is fresh and light, but rich at the same time. Complex, and drinking so well now, but no need to rush to drink up. 97/100

Chave Hermitage Blanc 1990 Northern Rhône, France
Powerful, intense and complex with lemons, spice, white peach. Textural with some grapefruit pith, wax and nuts. This powerful white Rhône is quite profound. 96/100

Chave Hermitage 1995 Northern Rhone, France
(Tasted twice with consistent notes and the same score.) Iron, blood, fresh red cherries and herbs on the nose. The palate shows iodine, spices, red cherries and plums. So intense with amazing fruit considering its age. Notes of cloves and pepper tell of its origins, and there’s real purity and definition here. Lovely wine. 96/100

Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 Northern Rhône, France
Spicy, peppery, bloody nose is highly aromatic. Still taut and focused. The palate shows amazing elegance and freshness, with lovely power and elegance combined. Cherries, plums, herbs and a bit of warmth, this is linear and focused and just beautiful. 97/100

Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1990 Northern Rhône, France
Lovely density, with sweet, rich, textured black cherry and blackberry fruit. Smooth and fine with a lovely silky texture and nice finesse. Very stylish. 95/100

verset cornas

Noel Verset Cornas 1999 Northern Rhône, France
(Drunk twice with consistent notes.) Iron, meat, blood and spice here with attractive black cherry fruit. Detailed, spicy and rich with fine red cherries, plums and real finesse. Still very lively and fresh. 96/100




Cotat Chavignol La Grande Côte Sancerre 1989 Loire, France
This is amazing for a 26 year old Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely texture and freshness with spice, nuts and warm, sweet pear and ripe apple fruit. There’s also some grapefruit. There are also sweet marmalade notes and a bit of apricot. Powerful yet still fresh with nice texture and real focus and complexity. There are even some cabbage hints. Utterly brilliant. 95/100

Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 1992 Italy
Sweet, elegant cherry and plum fruit with fine black cherry and spice notes. Warm and elegant with lovely spiciness and intensity, as well as smooth sweet black fruits. 95/100 

Jean Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte du Py 1995 Beaujolais, France
Floral and expressive with a hint of malt and iodine. Subtle herb and mushroom notes with red cherries and plums. Detailed with amazing focus and a bit of grip. Fine, with a hint of damson. Amazing wine: so wonderful and expressive. 95/100

Blandy’s Verdelho 1887 Madeira, Portugal
Bottled in 2013 after a long time in demijohn, following lots of time in barrel. Very citrussy and intense with marmalade, lemon peel and treacle notes, as well as some old furniture. Astonishing acidity here, and incredible length. A tiny sip goes a long way: the finish is eternal. 97/100

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 1982 Rioja, Spain
Superbly elegant and fine with silky, textured herb, spice and cherry notes. Lively and rounded at the same time with nice finesse and notes of iodine, cherries and blood. Ageing really beautifully. 96/100

Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay 1959 Rioja, Spain
Sweet and seductive with lovely rounded berry fruits. Smooth and pure. Floral with a hint of meatiness and lovely elegance on the palate, with a touch of citrus peel freshness and fine cherry fruit. Such elegance here, with beautiful finesse. Very fine and detailed with good acidity. 97/100

Heitz Marthas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 Oakville, Napa Valley, California
Highly aromatic. Sweet and warmly spiced with nutmeg and fine cherries. So supple on the palate with pure, balanced cherry and plum fruit characters. Elegant with a lovely stony, spicy edge. Beautiful, pure and expressive with subtle green minty notes on the finish. 96/100


Casa Agricola Jose de Sousa Rosado Fernandez Tinto Velho 1945 Reguengos, Alentejo, Portugal
Lovely black cherry and blackberry fruit with an appealing savoury core. Dense, mineral, grainy and spicy with olives and herbs, as well as expressive, pure black fruits. Complex with lovely weight, this has aged beautifully. Breathtaking. 97/100

EMA Viera Pereira Vinho Velho da Madeira 1890 Madeira, Portugal
This was bottled in 1989. Deep red/brown colour. Cherries, spice, treacle and nuts with lively citrus peel notes. Waxy, tarry and quite savoury. Intense with direct acidity. So harmonious, and sweet and savoury at the same time. 96/100

Marquis de Boaca Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel 1955 Roussillon, France
Bottled in 2014. Orange/brown colour. Complex aromatic nose with nuts, pears and spice as well as some raisin and orange peel. So complex and powerful. Lively with high acidity, citrus notes and some old casks. Lovely complexity here. 97/100

KWV port

KWV Muscadel LBV Bin B14 1930 Boberg, South Africa
Super complex and raisiny. Spicy and very detailed. Viscous and intense with just a hint of treacle and some cask notes. Really intense and complex, and mouthfilling and fine. 96/100

Hugel Riesling Vendange Tardive 1945 Alsace, France
Deep colour. Very old yet so fresh with nice weight and notes of lemons, mint, spice and herbs, as well as pretty floral notes. So pretty, with lovely complexity, finesse and precision, and some sweetness to. A remarkable wine. 96/100

Valdespino Cardenal Palo Cortado VORS Sherry/Jerez, Spain
Around 50 years old, from the solera of the Palo Cortado Viejo CP. Rich and intense with bold, spicy, raisiny, cedary characters. It has amazing aromatic complexity with sandalwood and old cabinets, as well as a hint of raisin and some porcini mushroom. The palate is broad, rich and intense with a savoury, grippy earthy edge and dusty spiciness. Amazing complexity to this wine, with so many layers of flavour, and a dry, dusty, tangy finish, with some orange peel and leather notes lingering on. 97/100

Champagne highlights from 2016, and a resolution for the New Year


It’s new year’s day! It’s normally the time for resolutions, but I’m struggling to think of any. This year I drank quite a bit of Champagne, but there’s room for improvement, so this year coming I resolve wholeheartedly to drink more fizz (including a decent proportion of Champagnes). I’ve been through all my notes for this year, and in no particular order, these are my Champagne highlights for 2016

Olivier Collin of Ulysse Collin

Olivier Collin of Ulysse Collin

Champagne Ulysses Collin Les Enfers Blanc de Blancs NV France
This is based on the 2010 vintage with 48 months on lees and was bottled in 2011. Disgorged in 2015. Wonderfully appley and aromatic on the nose with some lemony notes. Powerful, nutty and lemony on the palate with almonds and fine toasty notes, as well as ripe apples. Complex and very fresh with stone fruits and pear, coupled with good acidity. Profound wine. 96/100 

Champagne Ulysses Collin Les Perrières Blanc de Blancs NV France
This is based on the 2012 vintage and was disgorged in February 2016. 12.5% alcohol. Concentrated and intense with fine, expressive citrus fruits and a touch of herbiness, as well as some apple and pear richness. Focused, with nice bright lemony notes. Very fine and expressive, showing real intensity. Pristine and fine with lovely acidity. 95/100

Champagne Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV France
This is the March 2013 disgorgement. It’s a thrillingly rich and complex Champagne with lovely toast, ripe apple and bright lemon fruit. Lovely complex spiciness here with concentration and depth and attractive grapefruit, pear and melon notes. Crystalline. 96/100

Tasting with Anselme

Tasting with Anselme

Champagne Jacques Selosse V.O. Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV France
This stands for Version Originale, and it’s from poorer soils higher up the slope, based on vintages 2009/8/7. ‘For me this is the chalk speaking: the language of chalk,’ says Anselme Selosse. Dosage is 0.7 g/litre. Very fine aromatic nose with lovely citrus fruits, herbs, ripe apples. So linear and pure. Lemony, intense and mineral with great acidity. There are lots of dimensions here. ‘For this wine there is no smile,’ says Anselme. ‘It’s Cistercian, not Benedictine.’ So fine and linear with amazing structure. 97/100

Rodolphe Peters, Pierre Peters

Rodolphe Peters, Pierre Peters

Champagne Pierre Peters Les Chetillons 2008 France
Fine toast and pure citrus fruits on the nose. Explosive palate with minerality and acidity. So pure with amazing precision. Notes of almonds, citrus and ripe apple, with a hint of creaminess, and subtle toast. Profound. 96/100

Champagne Pierre Paillard Les Maillerettes Bouzy Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs 2010 France
Disgorged November 2015, dosage 2.5 g/litre. Chalky soil with 50 cm of clay/limestone over pure chalk. Attractive broad, fruity nose: cherries, lemons and herbs. Very fruity with some richness, but also some fresh, minerally chalky notes. Very bright in the mouth with lovely pure acidity. Fine and expressive with real elegance: it has Pinot richness but you can also taste the terroir here. 95/100 

Champagne Bereche et Fils Campania Remensis Rosé 2010 France
2010 base, disgorged May 2014, dosage 3 g/l. 12% alcohol. So lovely: tart and lemony with lovely cranberry and raspberry hints, as well as a touch of nice sour cherry. Precise and detailed with appealing fruitiness. 95/100

Champagne Bruno Paillard NPU 2003 France
NPU stands for Nec Plus Ultra, and this gets a 3 g/l dosage. This was the famously hot vintage, but Bruno has produced something special, in a year when another challenge was very little Chardonnay because of frosts. Distinctive creamy, toasty nose with fine pear and white peach fruit. Rich, taut, nutty palate with cherries, pear and quince. Complex, broad and intense with hazelnut, pear, cherry and some delicate savouriness. Hints of fennel and white pepper. 95/100


Champagne David Léclapart l’Amateur 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Pas Dosé NV France

Very fine, fresh, textured and mineral with fine pear and citrus fruit. So pure and linear with notes of anise and a nice savoury edge. Focused and poised. 94/100

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 France
12.5% alcohol. Tight, fresh, complex and detailed with subtle toast, white peach, white pepper, yellow plum and lemon notes. Bright and pure with precision and good acidity. Has beautiful detail and brightness, with a core of lemony fruit. There’s a bit of toast and honeycomb here, also. A remarkably good wine. 96/100

Champagne Vazart Coquart Special Club Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008 France
Dosage 8 g/l, aged on cork. Very linear and pure with subtle cream and toast notes. Nice acidity. Amazing purity with lovely lemony fruit core and subtle toast and herb characters, with a waxy edge. 94/100

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Two lovely fizzy Italian reds

radice lambrusco

Fizzy red wines. Not mainstream, I know, but I quite liked these two examples from Italy. They’re being sold by a retailer new to the UK, Tannico.

Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara Frizzante Secco 2015 DOC Radice, Italy
11% alcohol
This is a family run winery located in the heart of Sorbara, Modena. They’ve been making this Lambrusco di Sorbara for three generations, from 15 hectares of vineyards on chalky and sandy soils. The grapes are destemmed, pressed and the juice settled before primary fermentation. After around 70 days the wine is bottled where refermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts for around 90 days. The resulting wine is a slightly cloudy pale pink colour. The savoury, toasty nose shows attractive cherry and citrus fruit, and there’s a bit of pear and red apple richness. Toasty and nutty on the finish, with some fizziness. The yeasty, toasty character is really appealing, with a fine spiciness. Dry and easy to drink, finishing nutty and toasty. 90/100

piccolo bonarda

Piccolo Bacco dei Quaroni Vivace 2015 Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Italy
12.5% alcohol
A blend of Croatina (referred to here as Bonarda) 90%, Barbera 10%. Four chums bought a small (2.5 hectare) historical vineyard called Piccolo Bacco dei Quaroni in 2001. Here we are in the Oltrepo Pavese region in the northwest of Italy, bordering Emilia-Romagna. The vines are planted at high density and viticulture is close to organic. Second fermentation here is in pressurised tanks. Wild yeasts only. Deeply coloured and intense, this fizzy red wine is quite delicious. It’s inky and supple with black cherry and blackberry fruit, showing a hint of meaty spiciness and a sleek, ripe fruit character. Dry with some fruit sweetness, this is a lovely wine that’s delicious alone but would work with food. You can serve it chilled or at room temperature, and it’s lovely at both. Unusual, and great value for money. 90/100

On pens and writing

ink pens writing

I have decided to resurrect my ink pens, which have been a bit neglected of late. Instead, I’ve taken the easy option and used Uni-ball Eye Fine pens, which are pretty good and very easy to write with, but they aren’t ink pens.

There’s something special about writing long hand. It’s massively inefficient. You’d think it would have become extinct in the age of the laptop and iPad.

But it is an aesthetic choice.

As is buying Moleskine or Rhodia notebooks. They’re expensive, at about £15 a pop, for what is essentially blank paper. You could get a notebook that would do the same job for less than a tenth of the price. Couple that with ink pens that are inconvenient and potentially messy, and you are choosing the road less travelled.

But consider music consumption. Vinyl is inconvenient, and should be extinct. It’s just daft to buy vinyl, but vinyl sales are booming. It’s not just for dudes going through mid-life crises.

My point? People like to make aesthetic choices, and this includes writers. In an age where many wine writers are jumping straight to the laptop to bang out as many tasting notes as possible, there’s something to be said for writing long hand, pen on nice paper. It changes the way you write, I reckon.

We live in a media age where we struggle with a tsunami of information, where everyone is a writer. Professional writers are afraid of being lost in the crowd, and the temptation for them is to bank out more output in a bid to stay relevant and corner a larger slice of the market.

But could it be that the answer is to produce less, but better? Could changing the medium from laptop to longhand producer better output?

I use my laptop for tasting notes, sometimes. But tasting notes are just tasting notes. The world probably doesn’t need too many more of them. Competition has resulted in vast numbers of tasting notes being published, and also score creep. Like a drug addict who needs an ever increasing dose to feel the same high, the consumers of scores need ever greater scores. Yet the limit is 100. It will soon be reached, to the point that wines will be judged on a binary score: 99 (fail); 100 (succeed).

Could ink and decent paper be the answer?

Wines of the year (1) Instagram favourites


How do you decide which your favourite wines were from the year past? Difficult.

One way is to let others decide. I have quite a few instagram followers, and it’s interesting to see which wines that I post are the most popular.

There are lots of confounders here. If I post a nice picture that looks good it might get more likes. Or if I post at certain times of the day it may have an effect.

I have not included bottles that I haven’t drunk (you could take photos of a posh cellar or wine shop shelf). Also, not all wines I tried got posted, and some got posted as compilations. Also, I had more followers at the end of the year than the beginning.

Still, it’s fun compiling a list like this. Some real surprises. Number of likes indicated in brackets, and I’ve included all wines that had 200 likes or more.

1. Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia 1999 (451)
2. Musar 2005 (365)
3. Julien Sunier Fleurie 2015 (345)
4. Lapierre Morgon 2015 (329)
5. Niepoort Turris 2012 (314)
6. Champagne Bollinger Grande Annee 2005 (306)
7. Vieux Chateau Certan Pomerol 1985 (292)
8. Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2004 (289)
9. Foillard Morgon Cote du Py 2014 (286)
10. Maximin Grunhaus Abstberg Kabinett 2014 (279)
11. Savage Follow The Line 2015 (270)
12. Egon Muller Scharzhoberger Auslese 2011 (263)
13. Chateau Suduiraut 2001 Sauternes (262)
14. Blandy’s Bual Madeira 1920 (256)
15. Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000 (254)
16. Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos 2006 (253)
17. JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2001 (253)
18. Roulot Meursault Clos des Bouchières 1er Cru 2012 (249)
19. Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 2007 (248)
20. Domaine Leflaive Bienvenue Batard Montrachet 2012 (243)
21. Eyrie Vineyards Melon de Bourgogne 2012 (238)
22. Nyetimber Tillington 2010 (237)
23. Raveneau Chablis Butteaux 1er Cru 1999 (236)
24. Vina Tondonia Rioja Reserva 2002 (235)
25. Champagne Jacquesson 739 NV (230)
26. Champagne Savart L’Ouverture Premier Cru NV (230)
27. Dutraive Fleurie ‘Champagne’ Domaine de la Grand Cour 2005 (229)
28. Norman Hardie Niagara Chardonnay 2013 (226)
29. Domaine de Trevallon 1990 (223)
30. Jamet Cote Rotie 1999 (222)
31. Chave Hermitage 1995 (220)
32. Ridge Montebello 1989 (217)
33. Cos d’Estournel Blanc 2012 (216)
34. Keller Riesling 2013 (215)
35. Domaine Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1998 (215)
36. Domaine Bruno Clair Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru 2007 (215)
37. De Montille Pouilly Fuisse En Vergisson 2013 (212)
38. Valentini Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo 1992 (212)
39. Champagne Pol Roger 2006 (212)
40. Chateau Latour 2001 (209)
41. Chateau Pichon Baron 2012 (209)
42. JJ Prum Riesling Kabinett 2014 (208)
43. Champagne Gimonnet Cuis NV (206)
44. Anton von Klopper The Wildman Pinot 2015 (206)
45. The Wine Society Bonnes Mares, De Vogue, 1969 (204)
46. Pieropan Soave Classico 2014 (204)
47. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 (204)
48. Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny 2010 (204)
49. Graf Von Kanitz Lorcher Bodental-Steinberg Riesling Auslese 1976 Rheingau (202)
50. Champagne Gimonnet Cuis 1er Cru NV (201)
51. Champagne Gimonnet Oenophile 2005 (201)
52. Champagne Dom Perignon 1998 P2 (201)
53, Burn Cottage Gruner Veltliner 2014 (201)

Hush Heath Estate Balfour Brut Rosé 2013

hush heath

I was really impressed by this pink fizz from Hush Heath. It’s really elegant.

Hush Heath Estate Balfour Brut 2013 Kent, England
2013 was a late harvest here: Pinot began on 22 October, and Chardonnay came in on 7 November. The result is a wine with a very pale salmon pink in colour, and showing beautiful balance. There’s a fine citrus fruit core with some red cherry and rosehip notes, as well as a touch of apple. Really fine and expressive with pure fruit and lovely delicacy. The acidity is beautifully integrated and the finish is just so elegant. A really fine, fruit-driven wine. 92/100

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Oh, the places you'll go! 2016 in review


January: the year began in New Zealand, for a South Island Road trip, followed by the Sauvignon Blanc celebration. We started off in Central Otago, where it was unseasonably cold. Rippon is pictured above.


North Canterbury provided some highlights. including Pyramid Valley (above) and Bell Hill (below).



February saw the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium in Napa, California. Hugh Johnson’s keynote was the highlight. A terribly unfocused discussion on minerality was the lowlight.


In February, I attended Simplesmente Vinho in Porto, Portugal. It’s a lovely, slightly alternative wine fair.

Sashi Moorman

Sashi Moorman

In March I took a lovely trip to California with some great people. We started off in Santa Barbara’s wine country and then headed up north to Napa and Sonoma. It was great to see the Lompoc Wine Ghetto where the likes of Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr make their wines.


Jason and Bob Haas

Jason and Bob Haas

It was great to visit Tablas Creek in Paso Robles (above), and Nathan and Duncan of Arnot Roberts, one of the state’s most exciting producers (below).

Duncan and Nathan, Arnot Roberts

Duncan and Nathan, Arnot Roberts

Grower Champagne, ProWein

Grower Champagne, ProWein

March continues with Prowein. I tasted a lot of grower Champagne there, as well as doing some seminars for Canada.


March also saw a quick trip to Bordeaux to taste the bottled 2014s with Millesima. Above, the modern winery of Marquis d’Alesme. Below, the lovely city of Bordeaux.


Johan Reyneke

Johan Reyneke

In early April I travelled to South Africa for the first of three visits. This was for judging the Top 100 competition. Pictured above is Johan Reyneke, who I visited on the last morning.


April is also International Wine Challenge month. Two weeks of hard work, and good times with colleagues. It’s like a family.

Anselme Selosse

Anselme Selosse

April finished with a visit to Champagne. So many good visits, including a brilliant one with Anselme Selosse, and a lovely time with Rodolphe Peters of Pierre Peters (below). It was lovely staying in Reims.

rodolphe peters

mee godard

One of the highlights of May was a trip to Beaujolais, visiting some really good people. Mee Godard in Morgon was a great visit among many.


Another great visit was with the Thillardon brothers in Chenas (below).


Paul Henri and Charles Thillardon

Paul Henri and Charles Thillardon


May also saw a lovely visit to Germany, catching several regions and some great producers, such as Ernie Loosen (above) and Helmut Donnhoff (below).



Me in the Rheinhessen. Germany is on a roll at the moment.

albert boxler

June: Alsace. I love Alsace so much. It’s always great to visit.

Painted Rock

Painted Rock

June saw the first of four trips to Canada. Destination Penticton, for the National Wine Awards of Canada. The Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys are really beautiful.

Severine Pinte

Severine Pinte

Severine Pinte at La Vieux Pin is making some of BC’s best wines: serious Syrah.


Lovely BC fizz from Jay!


Straight from Canada, I headed over to Rioja for a consultants’ meeting with Lallemand. We visited Contino and also Marques de Riscal (above).


Then I was off to South Africa again, at the beginning of July. I explored MCC (South Africa’s sparkling wine), visited the Leeu Collection, and judged the Top 10 Chenin Blanc competition.

dirty little secret chenin blanc

This was lovely: Ken Forrester’s new high-end Chenin.


July saw some West Coast USA action. Starting in Vancouver, we hit Oregon (Eyrie pictured above).


Then some Oregon coast action: a quick trip to Cannon Beach.


Beckham was a highlight of Oregon. Andrew makes amphora, and uses them.


Then some time exploring Portland. What a city.


And time in Seattle, attending the Riesling Rendezvous, a great event.

Wes Pearson at work in the sensory lab

Wes Pearson at work in the sensory lab

July took me to Adelaide, Australia, for the Australian Wine Technical Conference, where I gave a couple of talks, as well as visiting the AWRI (above) and McLaren Vale.



Then August too me to Germany again, where I went on a press trip focusing on organic wines, tasted at the VDP event, and then studied sekt with my Canadian colleague Treve Ring. We made a video. Pictured above is Mathieu Kauffmann, who is now winemaker at Von Buhl in the Pfalz.


August also saw me head over to TexSom in Dallas.


Looking down on the Barca Velha winery from the chapel

Looking down on the Barca Velha winery from the chapel

September: harvest time in the Douro. A lovely trip taking in the Douro Boys, including Vale Meão (above) and Crasto (below).

Quinta do Crasto



We also visited Taylors to see foot treading in action. A video on how Port wine is made was the result, another collaboration with Canadian colleague Treve Ring.


Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

Jean-Benoit Deslauriers

In September I headed back to Canada. Destination (1) was Nova Scotia, where I visited sparkling wine producer Benjamin Bridge. Great wines from Jean-Benoit and his team.

benjamin bridge

norman hardy chardonnay

Then destination (2) Was Norman Hardie Wines in Prince Edward County, where I was immersed in vintage for a few days. It was a great experience. Norm is pictured above with Claude.




Then it was off to Elgin, South Africa’s coolest wine region (above), for the Chardonnay Symposium. It was a lovely few days. I followed it with a night in Bordeaux (below), before heading to Provence.



We had a lovely visit to Provence. Rosé is on a roll.


This was followed by a trip to Bordeaux, investigating the shift to organics, and also seeing the alternative side.




October saw me visiting pioneering Spanish wine company Vintae in Rioja and other northern Spanish regions.


November saw me in BC, Canada, again. I did a gig at Cornucopia in Whistler, then headed over to Victoria (above), to checkout the wine and beer scene here, and to judge in Gold Medal Plates.

Francisco Albuquerque and Chris Blandy

Francisco Albuquerque and Chris Blandy

Late November I headed over to Madeira, for my first visit, with Blandy’s, the leading producer.



And the last trip of the year: 10 days in Chile and Argentina. Above, Seña. Below, travelling companions Neil Beckett and David Williams.


Doña Paula's Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary

Doña Paula’s Alluvia vineyard in Gualtallary

It has been a lot of travelling. A big year. Lots learned. One of the best.