The dangers of negativity

One of the perils with my line of work is that it can be so easy to allow negativity to seep into my writing. I’m strongly convinced that negativity is poisonous and it can easily taint a writer’s output if it is allowed to take control.

Of course, this is not unique to wine writing, and it’s something that all of us have to deal with in our general lives. But I’m prompted to write about it because there’s a lot of it about.

I’m not arguing for uncritical acceptance, or just a general, bland niceness. It’s vital to be critical; to ask questions; and not to simply act as unpaid PR for whichever wine company wants to get their message across.

Rather, it’s about the focus of a writer’s work, and the way it feels to read it. There’s a lot to be positive about in the world of wine; there’s also plenty to be negative about.

In the latter camp:

  • International-style red wines at 15% alcohol with lots of new oak
  • The hyper-inflated scores dished out by egomaniacal critics with questionable taste
  • The anonymity and joylessness of many supermarket wines
  • The vacuousness of some Instagram ‘influencers’ who buy followers and engage in mutual self-promotion drives with other influencers
  • Ultracompetitive, self-promoting wine communicators who muddy the water for the rest of us who are friendly and collegiate
  • Big wine companies who muscle out competition
  • Environmentally degrading chemical viticulture

But if as writers we focus on the negative, it ends up tainting our writing. We end up being mean. We end up thinking we are better than others. We forget to be humble in the face of wine. We end up developing a taste for negativity; an addiction to antagonism. We will start looking for trouble and enjoying a good verbal scrap.

It’s very hard to escape a negative mindset when it is entrenched. We will find it difficult to praise, to be positive, to enthuse others about what’s good. And that should be our focus as wine writers: to find great things and tell people about them.

Prophet's Rock Vin de Paille

This wine deserves a mention, even if few will get to try it. It’s the first vintage of Prophet’s Rock new Vin de Paille, a ‘straw wine’ made from Pinot Gris grapes dried on racks in the vineyard barn for 45 days, and then whole bunch pressed. The resulting concentrated must is fermented using wild yeasts, and then bottled with lots of sugar remaining (170 g/l and 11.5% alcohol).

Winemaker Paul Pujol visited a producer of  vin de paille in the Jura, back in 2014 – the father-in-law of Francois Millet, who Paul collaborates with to make his Cuvée des Antipodes.

We managed to snag one of the three bottles that Scotch Bar had. It’s beautiful packed and utterly compelling. 763 bottles made.

Prophet’s Rock Vin de Paille 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Sweet and complex with bright melon, citrus and peach notes. Viscous but also very fresh with lovely texture and depth, and a slightly spicy finish. Covers so many areas of the flavour spectrum. 95/100

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Dona Berta: traditional, restrained, delicious Douro wines

There’s something very traditional about the labelling of these wines from Douro estate Dona Berta: pure and classic. This is reflected in the winemaking style, which shows admirable restraint and purity.

The estate, based in Quinta do Carrenho in the Douro Superior, was established some 40 years ago by an engineer, Hernâni Verdelho, using old family vineyards as a base. Enlisting the help of Virgílio Loureiro, who as well as acting as a consultant winemaker is professor of enology at Lisbon University, he produced some wines that established a quiet reputation for elegance and seriousness, including some really mineral whites. This was one of the first estates to make varietal Rabigato.

Sadly Hernâni died in 2011. Since then, the estate has been run by his wife Maria Fernanda Verdelho and children (Isabel Andrade and Pedro Verdelho). As well as new plantings (now 15-35 years old) the estate also has two hectares of centenarian vines, with mixed varieties (some not even in the IVDP register for the region).

These wines are really good and are very reasonably priced.

Dona Berta Rabigato Vinhas Velhas Reserva Branco 2016 Douro, Portugal
Stainless steel. Refined, waxy, slightly nutty nose with some citrus and fine herb notes. The palate is waxy and nutty with almond, pear and fine spicy characters. Mineral and beguiling with a stony, lemony finish. 93/100

Dona Berta Reserva Tinto 2013 Douro, Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Lovely supple wine with fine red cherries and berries. Stony and restrained with elegance and fine structure. Lovely presence here with nice acidity. Such balance. 93/100

Dona Berta Sousão Reserva 2013 Douro, Portugal
Not common to see this variety bottled alone. Nice chunky style but with freshness to the grippy raspberry and red cherry fruit. Has firm structure and a bit of spiciness. Nice grip. 93/100

Dona Berta Tinto Cão Reserva 2012 Douro, Portugal
A nicely structured with with black cherries and blackberries. Good grip with nice acidity and focus. Restrained but with lovely fruit. Really expressive and fine, and ageworthy, too. 94/100

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Interesting Marlborough: Framingham

Framingham is one of the most interesting of Marlborough’s wineries, but they tend to fly under the radar a bit. They are best known for their Rieslings – winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley is a complete Riesling freak – but their other wines are serious, too. Indeed, Riesling is only about 8% of the volume here. ‘Everyone thinks we make loads of Riesling, says Hedley, ‘but we’d be out of business if we made loads of Riesling.’ Framingham processed 650 tons of their own grapes in the winery last year, and most of this was Sauvignon. This tasting, which included a full set of the nine Rieslings from 2017, also included some very serious wines such as the F-Series Sauvignon, the F-Series Chardonnay and F-Series Pinot Gris that any winery would be thrilled to have in their portfolio. There are some real bargains in this range, considering the quality.

Dr Andrew Hedley, not just a master of Riesling

The estate vineyard, which has 18 acres of Riesling, was planted in 1981, by Rex Brooke-Taylor, and he sold his grapes to Stoneleigh, Grove Mill and even Dry River (who made a Riesling from here). Fortunately, Brooke-Taylor took the trouble to plant on phylloxera-resistant rootstock, which was unusual for the time. This meant that those 1981 plantings are still around, which makes them among the oldest vines in the region.

Framingham started as a label in 1994, and the F series started in 2008. The winery is owned by Portuguese wine company Sogrape. The estate vineyards are organically managed, but the growers’ vineyards aren’t.

This was a remarkable tasting, including nine Rieslings from 2017. As Hedley points out, there’s no other winery in the southern hemisphere where you can taste through nine Rieslings from a single vintage.

He gave me a blunt vintage report. 2017 was shit. 2018 was shit too but we’ve come through it better. There was lots of disease pressure in 2017 so only one wine in this line up didn’t have some botrytized fruit. ‘I have been working with botrytis for a long time,’ says Hedley, ‘so I’m comfortable and I know what you can pick and what you can’t. Selective harvesting is a vital part of what we do.’

We had a discussion about botrytis. ‘With botrytis. Two ways to use it: the early bloom, where it is getting going and the skin changes colour to purple, but you don’t see any spores. You have a day or two to pick: this is what a lot of people call slip skin. It’s great for dry wines: you are not building sugar but you are changing the flavours. The other is dried out botrytis, with spores. What a lot of people don’t do is actually taste the grapes. It’s rare to get ugly looking botrytis because we get the wind and sun. You have to let the sporey stuff dry out and then you get extra sugar in your grape juice. So it’s about trying to guess the degree of dehydration. This can move quite quickly. You have to taste the botrytis. We don’t get a lot of green or white mould here.’

After the tasting we wandered round the winery tasting the 2018s. There are some very interesting components and there will be some cracking wines from this vintage, including a lovely Gewürztraminer (not made in 2017) and some stunning Pinot Gris. And, of course, Riesling!

Framingham Pet Nat 2018
540 bottles. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Bottled with 16 g/l sugar out of tank, nothing added. Lovely weight here: some colour, with a bit of sweetness. Has bright fruit. Wholesome with a nice grainy structure. Really fun. 88/100

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2017
A really tricky vintage. I want it to be on the periphery of the mainstream rather than a mainstream style, but this is the wine in the range with commercial considerations. 11% in wood, with some acacia puncheons and old barriques. 30% of wine on lees in tank without sulfur for five or six months: the wines need this. You don’t need to be too protective with Sauvignon. 5% was fermented on skins. This is really delicate and pure with a hint of orange peel and tangerine, as well as lovely lemony fruit. Lovely precision to this wine. If we’d bottled this early we’d have been in real trouble. 92/100

Framingham F Series Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Bottled in March. All from the estate. All oxidative winemaking. Handpicked, destemmed, spontaneous fermentation, left on solids, 90% in wood with a bit of acacia. No on-skins component this year because it was too Campari-flavoured. No sulfur until bottling. Very fine and expressive. Bright citrus with tangerine and grapefruit, but also some richer pear and apple notes. There’s freshness and detail, with lovely texture and some very fine nectarine notes. Really beautiful and detailed with nice finesse. Amazing complexity and texture. Very stone fruity. 94/100

Framingham Chardonnay 2016
60% barrel fermented, with half of it wild ferment. Fresh and fruit driven with a soft, mealy, slightly buttery edge to the bright pear and white peach fruit. Brown juice, full solids, tank component stays of full ferment lees, avoid malolactic. If the barrel goes through malolactic then it’s OK. Fresh and supple and appealing. 89/100

Framingham F Series Chardonnay 2016
Leased vineyard down near Lawsons in southern valleys. Early ripening site that’s a bit frost prone. 50% in stainless steel barrels and 50% in old barriques. Just left to itself. Compact and textural with nice density. Has a bit of mandarin as well as some ripe pear, a hint of apple and a fine lemony core. Very textural with some nut and lovely taut, complex fruit expression. Very fine. Should age well, too. 94/100

Framingham Pinot Gris 2017
Picked late. No skin contact with Pinot Gris because the phenolics are all over the place. 12 g/l sugar, pH 3.6. Whole bunch pressed into stainless and wood (spontaneous fermentation). Ripe and rich with lovely bold grapey fruit, with some spice and marmalade characters. Lovely richness and balance here with a long spicy finish. Lovely wine. 92/100

Framingham F Series Pinot Gris 2017
One of the spontaneous components fermented in acacia puncheons with nothing added. Beautifully complex and textural with lovely sweetness and a broad mouthfeel. Has an incredible depth and just a hint of nice bitterness. Lovely nectarine, grape and apricot notes. Has a lovely mouthfeel and a spicy finish. Profound. 94/100

At the end of 2015 they got a gigantic frost on the vineyard, and a lot of the 2016 crop was lost. So in 2016, Hedley focused on higher-priced wine with the remaining estate Riesling, and took some Riesling from growers, which resulted in this one-off wine, the Jack Frost.

Framingham Jack Frost Riesling 2016
Has a massive botrytis component in this. Complex and multifaceted with grapefruit and marmalade hints, plus some broad apple and citrus characters and hints of apricot. Has nice weight and generosity, with a hint of sweetness. Layers of flavour here with some harmony. A real bargain. 91/100

Framingham F Series Old Vine Riesling 2017
‘This is our GG,’ says Andrew Headly. A dry Riesling from ripe grapes. Made without sulfur until bottling, 80% stainless steel, wild ferment. Lovely concentration and freshness here with very fine citrus and pear fruit with a nice, fine grained structure and a tight spiciness. Has a transparency to it with a hint of apricot and tangerine. Lovely texture and fruit purity to this wine. So hard to spit. 94/100 (retail $45)

Framingham Classic Riesling 2017
This is the style that has changed the least, but there is a lot more lees work on this. 5000 litre tank, taken dry, then left on the lees for 7 months. Has some other components added in after the other wines are bottled, and this is 17 g/l sugar. Very bright and fruit driven with some sweetness, with lemon, mandarin and some melony richness, as well as some grapey hints. Very delicate and fine with amazing purity and focus. So delicious and bright, and quite lovely. 92/100 ($25 retail)

Framingham F Series Kabinett 2017
8.5% alcohol, 50 g/l sugar. The only parcel without botrytis in 2017. Picked at 20-20.5 brix, overnight skin contact, 15% fermented on skins for 3 weeks. The skin contact mollifies the high acid, and adds some phenolics. Blended in a tank and then aged in an acacia puncheon for 6 months. Very pure and textural with keen acidity balanced by the sweetness. Has lemon, tangerine and honey notes, with some grip to the palate. Such a complex, taut, detailed wine. Give this one time to find its feet. Has a stony, slightly honeyed finish. Very interesting phenolics. 640 bottles made. 94/100

Framingham Select Riesling 2017
9% alcohol, Spatlese style. Look to make this every year: 16 vintages have been made so far. Whole bunch pressed, and will try to use the pressings if they can. Spend a lot of time by the press tasting all the time, looking at the phenolics, looking for metallic notes. Will make a diversion and if we don’t like it we will do something else with it. Linear and fresh with nice sweetness offsetting the acid, and lovely clean citrus fruit characters, together with grapey, spicy richness. Has an interesting mouthfeel. Very ripe flavours here with smooth phenolic structure. Has a slight raspberry ripple flavour, says Andrew, and he’s right: there’s some red fruit here. 93/100

F Series Riesing Spätlese 2017
9.5% alcohol. Has a gold capsule! Has 20% botrytis in here. Comes from a spur-pruned section of the vineyard that ripens a bit earlier. Some spontaneous fermentation, and also some wood components, including fermenting in acacia. Beautifully bright and expressive with nice acidity, and complex notes of apricot, lemon and pear. Lovely weight but also has delicacy with a very fine spiciness under the fruit. Beautifully detailed and complex with lovely depth and really attractive botrytis. 95/100

F Series Riesling Auslese 2017
9% alcohol. Nicely focused nose with sweet citrus fruit and a hint of apricot. The palate has beautiful texture and ripeness with incredible richness and purity, and a very fine spicy detail running through it. Sweet melon and apricot notes, with a creamy consistency and great balance between the sweetness and acidity. Such concentration and purity, with a real Auslese personality. Sweet but balanced with some honey hints. Profound stuff. 96/100

‘These are not dessert wines,’ says Hedley, ‘they are cheese wines, or you can drink them like sorbet between courses.’

Framingham Noble Riesling 2017
9.5% alcohol, 190 g/l of sugar. Very sweet nose of marmalade, apricot and grapes, with some spicy overtones. Enticing. Viscous and delicious on the palate with lovely sweetness and complexity. Has lovely acidity countering the sweetness. Lots of weight and volume here with lovely tropical and melon fruity notes. There’s lovely richness and complexity here, with purity too. 94/100

‘We have to get to 9% with these sweeter styles to export to the EU, so there’s a lot of work getting the yeasts to produce this much without getting high VA,’ says Hedley.

F Series Riesling Beerenauslese 2017
This was a component of Noble Riesling that really stood out. 9% alcohol, 220 g/l sugar. This has amazing richness and detail with apricot, lemon, melon and honey notes. Really viscous and powerful, but also with delicacy and complexity. Has lovely density and richness. Profound with real depth and viscosity, but impeccable balance and length. 96/100

F Series Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 2017
9% alcohol, 310 g/l sugar, 10.5 g/l TA. Complex nose of spicy, grapey, melony citrus fruit. Incredible depth and sweetness on the palate. Mouth-coating, rich and sweet, but when the initial rush of sweet melon, pear, tinned peach and apricot fruit recedes, suddenly the acidity asserts some balance and there’s a lovely spicy length. Such a thought-provoking wine with many dimensions to it. Has a purity and freshness, as well as the sweetness. 96/100

Framingham Pinot Noir 2016
Little bit of Wadenswil (10/5) on the estate, but most comes from the southern valleys. 7% whole bunch (bunches in the bottom). The perceived wisdom is clay is good and everything else is shit but I don’t agree with this. Vry fresh and pure with nice delicacy to the raspberry and cherry fruit. Has a nice brightness and some savoury spiciness. Very pure and pretty with nice focus. Bright and pure and linear. 93/100

Framingham F Series Pinot Noir 2016
Southern valleys. 20% whole bunch. Lovely tension here: has a bit of grip with some nice grainy structure and delicate, transparent raspberry and cherry notes. Very fine and expressive with purity and focus. Has some grip, too, with fine herbal notes sitting under the fruit. Potential to age. I love the purity of fruit and the brightness here. 94/100

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A case of 2015 reds from the Gimblett Gravels, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

Each year, the Gimblett Gravels association – a group in charge of a special terroir in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – makes a selection of 12 top reds. This is the 2015 edition, the latest, and it was selected by Andrew Caillard MW. These are my notes on the wines. Some I was really impressed with; others may be a little less. All were solidly good though.

Te Awa Single Estate Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol
This is a seductive, sweetly fruited wine with a whack of sweet vanilla oak adding a creamy, cedary edge to the supple, smooth cherry and plum fruit. It’s a very appealing wine with a softness to it, but there’s also a twist of bitterness on the finish, and the oak needs a while to settle down. 88/100

Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Slightly gravelly, savoury edge to the midweight blackcurrant fruit with some grippy tannins and a slight dustiness. This is supple and well balanced, but it feels slightly muted. With its tannic structure, this could be a good bet for a medium-term ager. 89/100

Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2015 Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand
Minimal handling and 16 months in French oak. Gravelly, peppery and savoury with some clove and black pepper framing to the meaty berry and cherry fruits. On the finish this is structured and grippy with nice focus to the black fruits, and hints of liquorice and anise. Concentrated but restrained and savoury, and quite focused and balanced. 92/100

Trinity Hill Syrah 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Fresh, vivid and peppery on the nose: more white pepper than black. The palate is midweight and supple, fresh and peppery, with fresh red and black cherry and blueberry notes. Nicely proportioned, fresh and beautifully balanced with vivid black fruits. Polished and appealing but with a subtly wild edge, too. This has a sense of elegance to it. Finishes dry and grippy but not austere. 93/100

Mission Estate Cabernet Merlot Barrique Reserve 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 18 months in barrel. This is ripe but with a gravelly, spicy depth to it, combining savoury, mineral, tarry notes alongside sweet blackcurrant fruit. It’s got a spicy lift, with some sour damson notes, but also some good structure and density. Quite old world in style, but with some sweet fruit too. 91/100

Ka Tahi Rangatira Reserve Syrah 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.4% alcohol. This is a joint project between the Leadbetter, Bearsley and Karl families, who are farmers in Hawke’s bay, together with winemaker Rod Macdonald. It’s a really assured, well balanced wine that was unlucky just to get a bronze medal at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. It’s a beautifully ripe, textured Syrah that doesn’t show any of the angular clove and pepper notes that can dominate this variety in Hawke’s Bay. Instead, there’s a lush black cherry and blackberry core, with a slight saltiness and subtle pepper characters. Nice precision here, with lovely balance. This has harmony, and it’s drinking really well now. 93/100

Babich The Patriarch 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 22% Malbec. 13.5% alcohol. Fresh, pure and balanced with a savoury, gravelly edge to the bright black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Youthful and quite primary with some grainy tannic structure. Has a firmness and a sense of restraint. Should age really nicely, putting on some weight in the process. 92/100

Sacred Hill Brokenstone 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Merlot/Malbec/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc aged for 18 months in French oak. This is seamless and textured with bold, ripe, smooth blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Shows lovely weight and balance, with nice fruit sweetness, but there’s just a hint of musty cork taint in the background, so I can’t rate it. Without the taint, this would be lovely

Craggy Range Le Sol 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Deeply coloured, this has beautiful floral aromas of sweet black cherries, violet and spice. There’s a touch of black pepper with some fine herbs and just a touch of olive and clove savouriness. The palate is ripe and sweetly fruited, but also fresh and well defined. The silky fruit is quite polished, but not overly so. Seductive and concentrated, this is a sophisticated, ripe expression of cool climate Syrah. It’s drinking beautifully now, and will continue to develop over the next few years. Lovely complexity here, blending sweet and savoury elements very nicely. Touching on profundity. 94/100

Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Deeply coloured. Concentrated and intense with focused sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. This is quite tight and compact, and not fully integrated yet: there’s some sweet lush fruit but also a strongly savoury, spicy, woody edge. Has lovely purity but also needs some time to come together. 90/100

Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This is a beautiful, well-proportioned wine in an old-world mould. It has a fresh, quite floral nose of sweet blackcurrant fruit with a subtly chalky, gravelly twist. The palate is mid-weight and taut with fresh, sappy-edged blackcurrant and cherry fruit, together with appropriate structure and acidity. There’s ample concentration here, but also delicacy and freshness, and it has no rough edges. 93/100

Vidal Reserve Syrah Gimblett Gravels 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is fresh, focused and gravelly with a nice savoury, refreshing edge to the black cherry and blackberry fruit. It’s a bit peppery and also quite grainy: there’s some ripeness to the fruit, but no plushness. This is tight and focused, showing good concentration, but also some savoury clove and pepper notes, and tight tannins. It’s an impressive effort, if a bit angular at the moment. Will be interesting to watch it develop over the next few years: will it put some weight on? 93/100

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The Hermit Ram Pinot Noir Whole Bunch 2017 North Canterbury, New Zealand

I’ve talked about the wines of Theo Coles here before on this blog. His brand is The Hermit Ram (although he also works on other projects), and the other night at Scotch we had this: the latest release of his Pinot Noir. I see that I scored the 2016 the same, but this 2017 may be even better, and I really like it. I had it again a couple of days ago, and it may become one of those wines that I have quite frequently at Scotch (like the Vajra Barbera, Souhaut’s Souteronne and the Mount Edward Gamay).

The Hermit Ram Pinot Noir Whole Bunch 2017 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Really fresh, vivid and crunchy with a sappy edge to the bright cherry and plum fruit. There’s a lovely undergrowth edge and some greenness but it has integrated really well. So vivid and bright and drinkable but with seriousness too. It has elements of Gamay but also hints of northern Rhône. 93/100

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Air New Zealand lounge wine round up

I’m in the lounge at Auckland airport heading to Hong Kong and then Thailand. Flight delayed by a few hours, so time to try all the lounge wines. Airlines don’t have much money to spend on lounge wines because passengers chug a lot of wine while they are waiting, so it’s always interesting to see what they have on offer. The pick of the bunch here is a back vintage of the Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah.

Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2012 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
With a few years under its belt, this is nicely expressive with sleek black cherry and blackberry fruit as well as some subtle pepper and olive tapenade characters. There’s a nice fleshiness here as well as a bit of grip. Very appealing with good balance. Midweight and digestible. 93/100

Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2017 New Zealand
Mealy and spicy with stony citrus and pear fruit, as well as some pineapple. Lively finish. 90/100

Trinity Hill Chardonnay 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Lively with nice citrus and pear fruit. Had a bit of creaminess. Juicy finish. Fresh fruit driven style. 88/100

Saint Clair Premium Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
I was quite impressed by this. Supple and juicy with cherry and plum fruit. Has some nice spicy character and a bit of damson bitterness. Nice texture here. Very drinkable. 91/100

Thornbury Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
Juicy and plummy with some red cherry fruit. Rounded with nice fruit. It’s a lighter-styled approachable Pinot with no rough edges, and although this isn’t complex, it’s very drinkable. 88/100

Vidal Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Nice grainy cherry and berry fruit with a twist of black currant. Has some structure and appealing sweetness to the fruit. Satisfying and balanced. 90/100

Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is attractive and well made. It’s simple, fruity and quite pretty. Has some sweetness. Tropical notes dominate. 87/100

Vidal Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Tight, herbal, lively and citrussy. Has keen acidity and a bit of pithiness. Nice bright style with good concentration of flavour. 88/100

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Gris 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Grapey, fruity and a bit stoney. Dry with an appealing savouriness. Has some flavour. Considering the vintage conditions, this is a solid wine. 88/100

Vincent Carême Vouvray Sec 2015

I visited Vincent Carême a year ago, and loved his wines, as well as Vouvray, which makes some of the most compelling Chenin Blancs you could hope for (as well as some bad ones, alas). This is the sort of wine I like: it’s not easy, but instead it is multifaceted, taking its time to reveal different sides to itself. It has lots of personality, and it expresses its place really well.

Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Sec 2015 Loire, France
From soils of clay and flint, this is a piercingly dry Chenin Blanc with lovely acidity, and complex notes of ripe pear and baked apple, together with almond and straw notes. Initially it seems a bit oxidative, but on the second day it develops a bit more steely, mineral presence, and the apple and pear are joined by some tangerine notes. Really interesting expression of Chenin, and great value, too. 93/100

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An evening of cocktails and fine dining at Arbour with Elemental Distillers

Ben Leggett, spirits guru

I’m used to going to dinners that match posh food with snazzy wines. But on Saturday night it was time for something different. Arbour restaurant, the top fine dining destination in the Marlborough region, hosted Ben Leggett of Elemental Distillers for an evening of cocktail and food matching. Ben already sells a range of bitters, and will soon be selling his Marlborough ‘Roots’ gin. We began the evening with a classic G&T made with this. Then it was on to a multi course meal with dishes chosen to match five different cocktails. Both the food and the cocktails were memorable. It’s so nice to see professionals on top of their game cooperate like this.

The bitters

Forgotten Orchard
Roots gin, cucumber, apple, jasmine, yuzu, Roots Grapefruit and Hop bitters

Crayfish, octopus, cucumber, buttermilk

Chelsea Rose
Roots gin, vintage rose syrup, orange, lemon, Roots Grapefruit and Hop bitters

Swordfish, vadouvan, yoghurt, cauliflower

Fairhall Shrub
Roots gin, damson, rhubarb, spice, balsamic, Roots Blackberry and Balsamic bitters

Smoked pork jowl, ruby beets, parsnip cream

Antico Negro
Roots gin, Campari, PX Sherry, Italian amaro (Fernet Branca), oak

Wild venison, sunchoke, mushroom, hazelnut

Petit Bisou
Cognac, ginger liqueur, citrus and fig leaf foam, Roots Blackberry and Balsamic bitters

Spiced tea cake, fig leaf crème, blackberry sorbet



Video: Pinhão station and its famous tiles

Ever since I first arrived at Pinhão station in Portugal’s Douro Valley, I’ve been amazed by its beautiful blue tiles (azulejos). Overall, there are 3024 of these hand-painted tiles, arranged in 24 panels depicting wine production in the Douro as it would have been a century ago.

The station dates back to 1880, but the tiles didn’t arrive until 1937. They were painted by J. Oliveira and produced by the Aleluia tile factory in Aveiro. The tiles were renovated in 2011 and look beautiful. Here’s a short film of the station and the tiles, which are explained by João Roseira.