Two from Tokaji star Disznókő, one dry, one sweet

Two wines from leading Tokaji producer Disznókő: one dry and one sweet.

Disznókő Tokaji Dry Furmint 2016 Tokaji, Hungary
12.5% alcohol. This is crisp, fresh and fruity with a nice stony edge to the lemon and pear fruit. Subtle herbal notes, too. It’s quite a stony, mineral wine with a light body and good acidity. A bit Chablis like: it’s more about freshness, texture and minerality than it is about fruit flavour. 89/100

Disznókő Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 2002 Tojaki, Hungary
Rich bronze/gold colour. Bold and intense with thick cut marmalade, grapefruit pith and apricot flavours, together with a spicy bite and some nice peach and pear notes. Concentrated and very sweet, but with the sweetness well balanced by the savoury notes. Great depth to this complex wine. 95/100

Find this wine with

Winemaking at Gabrielskloof: pressing Chenin Blanc and sorting Pinot Noir

My first day in the cellar at Gabrielskloof was a busy one. This cellar is shared by Peter-Allan Finlayson (who makes Crystallum wines, and also Gabrielskloof, his wife Nicolene’s family winery), John Seccombe (Thorne and Daughters), and Marelise Niemann (Momento), and this means there’s plenty going on.

The day started with some pressing of Chenin Blanc. This was from the Paardeberg, and it was John’s. The season there has been very dry, but the grapes looked lovely: small berries, with good acidity and nice flavour. They had been picked in 20 kg crates, and so we had to fill the press by hand. This is quite hard work.

The Chenin Blanc berries, close-up

There were four tons of grapes, which means two press loads. The press in question is a vintage item. It’s a Vaslin fixed cage horizontal press, made in 1989. The idea of these cage presses is that they are like horizontal basket presses. The two ends of the press squeeze the grapes and the juice escapes through holes in the cage. This is different to most modern presses, which have an inflatable bag that squeezes the grapes by inflating and deflating in cycles (known as pneumatic presses). The cage press is capable of excellent results, but you have to manage it manually for best results, and know what you are doing, stopping when the quality of the juice goes down.

As the grapes are pressed, the juice drips down into the tray, and is then pumped off to a tank for settling. It’s not protected from oxygen and so it turns a muddy brown colour. After pressing is finished, it’s time to remove the skins and clean the press ready for the next lot. This isn’t the most exciting job. It’s also time to wash the crates that the grapes came in, ready to send them out for another pick. I spent quite a bit of time doing this.

What’s left after pressing

I also spent a lot of time sorting the Pinot Noir from the Cinema vineyard in Hemel-En-Aarde. This came in the previous day and had been kept overnight in a cold room. It’s always best to process grapes cold, and if they are picked in small crates then they can be kept for a day or two before processing with no loss in quality.

The sorting table

The sorting table is important for making top Pinot Noir. The dry growing season meant the fruit was very healthy, and we were looking for just two things as we sorted. The first was bird damage: the drought has left birds hungry, and when they peck at grapes the result can be damage that leads to sour rot developing. The second was raisining: the heat and warm winds can causes some berries to dehydrate, and they add sugar and slightly raisiny flavours to the must. We began by sorting for these raisins, but later any bunches with some raisining were put back into crates for processing on their own later.

After the Pinot passed the sorting table, it was taken by conveyor to a plastic fermenting bin as whole clusters. This ferment will be 100% whole cluster. Other ferments in larger tanks are part whole cluster and part destemmed, with the destemmed portion pumped over the top of the whole bunches. In order to get the fermentation going, I foot trod the whole clusters in the plastic bin to release some juice and mush things around a bit. The grapes were cold, and the stems are a bit scratchy, so it’s not the most comfortable feeling. But it does give you a connection with the wine, doing something so physical.

Dry ice is sprinkled over the top of the grapes before putting the lid on. It helps protect against oxygen before fermentation is underway.

There were a few other tasks, but processing the Chenin and the Pinot were the two main focuses. It’s quite physical work, and for me it was great to get a chance to look behind the scenes again (I’ve done bits of vintage elsewhere). I’m here for another 10 days, so it should be a great chance to learn more about how some of my favourite wines are made.

Some lovely South African whites: Crystallum, Gabrielskloof, Momento, Thorne and Daughters

My first night in South Africa began well. I’m staying here 11 days, working vintage in the cellar at Gabrielskloof, a space shared by four of South Africa’s most interesting producers. It should be a fun time. In addition to Gabrielskloof, there’s Crystallum, Thorne and Daughters and Momento. Friday night was intern braai night, and this included some lovely whites from each of the four producers.

Gabrielskloof The Landscape Series Magdalena Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. There’s a real presence to this wine: fresh but textured pear fruit, some smoky grapefruit, fine spiciness and even a hint of wax. It’s fresh with a saline, mineral edge to the fruit and a slight bready, toasty richness in the background. Lovely stuff: a really serious South African interpretation of the classic barrel fermented Bordeaux white. This will age beautifully. 93/100 (R295)

Gabrielskloof The Landscape Series Elodie Chenin Blanc 2016 Swartland, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. From dry-farmed bush vines. Fresh, supple and fine with bright tangerine and lemon fruit and a bit of white peach, but also lovely mineral density and texture. It has a fine structure to it. Pure and even a bit salty, with a nice fine spicy finish. This wine really grows on you: it has dimensions and layers, and it’s not just about fruit. 93/100 (R295)

Crystallum Clay Shales Chardonnay 2017
Stony and mineral with a lovely spicy, lemony twist. Textural and fresh with a hint of pineapple richness. Really detailed and spicy with lovely weight. This is bright and precise with citrus and pear, and a hint of apple. A profound Chardonnay. 95/100

Thorne and Daughters Paper Kite Old Vine Semillon 2015 Franschhoek, South Africa
This comes from the centenarian Landau du Val vineyard in Franschhoek. Fine, textured and a bit spicy. Nice density to the lemon and pear fruit with some waxy notes. There’s a hint of wax and some lanolin, with a bit of mandarin and a saline twist on the finish. Really fine. 94/100

Momento Chardonnay Verdelho 2016 Western Cape, South Africa
Fine herbal notes here, with some citrus and green tea, as well as bright grainy pear fruit. The palate is fresh and supple with lovely brightness. Really expressive with a nice mineral twist to the fruit, and a delicate tangerine and grapefruit twist. 93/100


Some thoughts on wine quality: an intrinsic or extrinsic property of a wine?


How do we define quality in a wine? Is it an intrinsic or extrinsic property of the wine? That is, is quality something that a wine possesses independent of the occasion of drinking, or the drinker, or not?

The most useful definition of quality is fitness for purpose. We can no more ask someone what the best wine is than we can ask a carpenter what the best tool is: if a nail needs to be knocked in, a hammer is better than a screwdriver.

So in terms of a wine, whether or not it is high quality depends on the context of drinking, the winemaker intention, the person consuming the wine, and the way the wine is served. Wine quality is to large part extrinsic not intrinsic.

Context of drinking is vital. It’s a warm summer’s day and you are dining al fresco in sight of the sea. In this context, for most people, a crisp, pale rosé, well chilled, would be an extremely high quality wine, whereas a young first growth Claret from a great vintage would not be at the same quality level, even though in a neutral setting most tasters would declare the latter to be the better wine. But even at that same table, to a novice taster a cheaper, darker coloured, semi sweet rosé might be considered better quality than a more sophisticated Provence rosé.

How the wine is served is also a quality factor. The same Provence rosé is a much higher quality wine when it is served chilled from a nice Zalto glass than it is served at room temperature from a Paris goblet. Packaging matters too: a nice label design can create expectations, and the wine may well be perceived as being better because of this.

The drinker also matters a lot. An obvious example: a mousy red wine is faulty to a taster who can detect mousiness. Yet a proportion of people don’t get the gout de souris, and for them, quality is not affected. More subtly, while I have been in New Zealand (for the last couple of months), on many occasions I have been drinking with wine winemakers. I’ve learned that, generally speaking, winemakers are much less tolerant of wine faults such as brettanomyces, oxidation and volatile acidity. If they can detect traces of these, they tend to reject the wines. This is because as winemakers, they need to be very sensitive to the first signs of any problems in a young wine. I have other friends who drink a lot of natural wine and are much more tolerant of wines where there are traces of ‘faults’, but in the context of the wine they play a background, supporting role.

Does winemaker intention have a role in quality? This is an interesting question. If a winemaker sets out to make a wine in an oxidative style, is it any better than a wine that has seen the same amount of oxygen, but in the latter case because the winemaker was careless or incompetent and didn’t protect the wine? Aside from whether or not you can tell the wines apart, I incline to the view that winemaker intention is part of quality. If a wine turns out a certain way because the winemaker intended it, it is a better wine than a wine that turns out the same way but this was never the intention of the winemaker.

For all these reasons, I would argue that a critic score for a wine is not an indicator of quality. In order to score wines at all, a critic needs to strip them of as many of the extrinsic factors as possible, but by doing this they are removing factors that are vital for wine quality. So, instead, a score has to be seen as an attempt by a critic to rank wines numerically according to their intrinsic drivers of quality. Even a blind tasting, though, will bring in some extrinsic factors: greatness in a wine is decided by a community of judgement. We are operating in an aesthetic system or systems: cultures of wine. A score is merely a useful shorthand trying to place a wine within this aesthetic system, but it’s not an objective marker of wine quality, nor a property of the wine.

Off to South Africa, drinking a Chenin in the lounge

I’m in the BA lounge, on the way to South Africa. Tried through the wines, and this was the pick of a rather underwhelming bunch. I’m quite tired: I’ve only just got back from New Zealand, and I’ve had a busy few days in London. I shall definitely sleep on the plane.

Oldenburg Chenin Blanc 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is really bright and focused with a spicy edge to the apple and pear fruit. It has a nice slightly bitter tang to the fruit with some grainy structure, and some tangerine and lemon citrus characters. There’s good concentration of flavour here, and the keen acidity keeps things tight. Impressive stuff. 91/100


Wines of the year, as decided by Instagram (2)

Following on from my earlier post, looking at the most popular wines on my Instagram feed in 2017, here’s the next batch of wines. We begin with the Jura, and a hot favourite is Ganevat.

I begin with this Vines de Mon Pere, drunk with Mr Wregg. Only in magnum. Amazing.

This is a red – Plousard – and it was drunk at Scotch Bar in Blenheim in June.

The Florine: enjoyed with chums at Brilliant Corners.

And more mainstream, but also compelling, the Pelican Trois Cepages at 10 Cases.

Burgundy: lots of treats this year. This was shared with Greg Sherwood and others.

And this was drunk in Mornington Peninsula at a dinner.

Dirk Niepoort shared a taste of this mature Laroche in Germany in March, and it was just lovely.

Gotta love Roulot, the new Coche. Such good wines.

This lived up to its elevated reputation. Drunk at the IPNC. Remarkable stuff.

Raveneau! 2014: a great vintage, and drunk far too young at a dinner in Mendoza.

I had this at Norm’s in early November. Very tight and youthful, but lovely purity.

Chunky and dense, but I can’t remember where I was when I had this.

Had this 2009 Roulot at Iona, out among the vines with Andrew and Werner.

New Zealand made a few appearances. This Albarino put in a good showing, off the list at a restaurant in Wellington.

Seresin’s Chardonnay proved popular, too.

Polished but serious, I commented on this delicious Le Sol.

Burn Cottage Pinot 2012 was superb, drunk with Brian and Marion and their winemaker Kosie in Elgin.

Not an expensive wine: Te Awa’s Gisborne Albarino. Popular because of the variety, I think, which is settling in well into New Zealand.

Australia made just three appearances. I tried this Timo Meyer in Japan. It is superb.

And a couple of Ochota Barrels wines. Taras and Amber are making beautiful wines.

Champagne Gosset Grande Réserve Brut NV France

This is a multivintage blend, bringing together wines from three vintages, and it’s aged on lees for four years, adding extra complexity. This is a bold, powerful, gastronomic Champagne. There’s no malolactic fermentation, which keeps the acidity brisk and keen. Lots of interest here, and I also love the distinctive bottle shape, which is really classy.

Champagne Gosset Grande Réserve Brut NV France
12% alcohol. 2012 base, disgorged 2017, 8 g/litre dosage. This is delicious, full flavoured Champagne. It’s very rich, with some toast, spice and baked apple alongside truffle, lemons, yellow plums and dried herbs. Keen acidity gives this a very dry, savoury character, but there are sweet nutty and honeyed notes on the finish. Powerful and lively, this is a nuanced, intense wine with lovely focus and depth. Very much in a richer style, but with precision, too. 93/100 (£50 from Borough Wines, Corney & Barrow, The General Wine Company, Flootes, The Vine King, Bon Coeur Fine Wines, Mr Wheeler, Harvey Nichols, Lea & Sandeman, Just in Cases, Fine Wine Sellers (www.,, Ann et Vin, Amps Fine Wines, Huntsworth Wine, Mill Hill Wines, Portland Wine Cellars, Flagship Wines, Quaff Fine Wine Merchant, Handford Wines, Blue Otter Wines, Wine Utopia, Great Horkesley Wines, Champagne Direct (, Fareham Wine Cellar, Hennings Wine, Whole Foods Market (Kensington), Cellar Door Wines, Warlingham Wines, The Whisky Exchange, Fortnum & Mason, The Finest Bubble)

See also: Champagne tasting: how do the famous names stack up?

Can outsiders help Central Otago Pinot Noir discover itself? A seminar with Ted Lemon, PJ Charteris and François Millet

Paul Pujol, Chair of Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2018

One of the highlights of the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration was a seminar focusing on how outside experience with Pinot has had an influence on the region. ‘This room is full of winemakers, most of who are from somewhere else!’ began celebration chair, Paul Pujol of Prophets Rock, who was himself an outsider with extensive winemaking experience abroad before he came to the region. ‘It wasn’t wine that first drew me in and got me hooked on this place: in my case it was the mountains and the rivers.’ Paul’s initial interest in the region was skiing and white water kayaking. He went on to say that he quickly learned while kayaking that the rivers in Central Otago are different; in the vineyard he’s also had to make corrections to his viticulture and winemaking approach. ‘This place is different,’ he stated. ‘Viticulture needs to be responsive and the winemaking approach needs to be considered.’

Paul was followed by a short talk by Andrea Frost, who spoke of wine and culture, and how in Central Otago it’s possible still to reach out and touch the beginning of the wine culture. She quoted the region’s first professional winemaker, Rudi Bauer, who stated that winemakers here had the chance to create their own wine culture. ‘What is wine if not its culture?’ stated Andrea. ‘It’s a chemical process until we bestow culture on it: what meanings are we giving wine?’ She then went on to say that while a healthy democratization of society has led to democratization of wine, at the same time the commercialization of modern life has led to commercialization of wine. This is something we need to resist if we are to seek interesting, authentic wine: the triumph of mass appeal over cultural authenticity.

So, to the tasting. The concept was to choose three winemakers who make wines in Central Otago but who also work in other regions. Then through pairs of wines, they were encouraged to discuss how their experience outside the region has shaped what they have done in Central Otago.

Ted Lemon with Burn Cottage winemaker Claire Mulholland

Ted Lemon
Ted Lemon needs little introduction here. He’s one of the leading Pinot Noir producers in northern California, and the furthest any of his vineyards is from the coast is 20 miles. His Central Otago journey began in 1983 in a Chinese restaurant in Beaune. At the time Ted was making wine in Burgundy, and Grant Taylor (long-time Central Otago winemaker, but who at the time was working in California) and his then boss Gary Andrus came out to see him. He’s been friends with Grant every since.

Ted was introduced further to Central Otago through more friendships with winemakers from the region. Steve Davies (whose Central brand is Doctor’s Flat) lived with Ted and his wife Heidi in 1994 when they’d just started Littorai. And soon after, Blair Walter (Felton Road) spent a week sleeping on their couch, and he also became a friend. In the early 2000s the Sauvage family were interested in Central Otago, and turned to Ted for advice. His counsel to Marquis Sauvage was not to buy someome else’s mistakes, but to purchase land and plant a new vineyard. The property that is now Burn Cottage, right before Lowburn, was available and the Sauvages bought it. Marquis asked Ted to get involved in the project, but initially Ted held out because of his young family and the impact of extra travelling. Eventually he came, and is now consultant winemaker.

For Ted, one of the features of Central Otago is an amazing sense of generosity among the winemakers. Steve Davies, Blair Walter and Grant Taylor really helped with Burn Cottage: they were enormously influential in getting things going. This group of friends extended to include Rudi Bauer, Dean Shaw and Nick Mills, among others.

‘The most important thing in our work at Burn Cottage is how do you find that synergistic moment or space between belief, openness and a new environment?’ asked Ted. ‘If we come to our work with a sense of dogma, this is a real disservice, especially if you are coming to a region where you have never worked before. Then you are making wine of ego. I really hope we have left behind the generation of consultants where it is all about who the consultant. What matters is listening to the place where we work.’

Littorai The Pivot Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Sonoma Coast, California
Generous and full flavoured with sweet red cherry and berry fruit. Quite lush but with good structure and spice. This is dense and generous, showing sweet fruit, but also staying balanced with nice freshness. There’s some spicy structure but it integrates very well. An assured, polished wine with some profundity too. Lots of potential. 95/100

Burn Cottage Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
There’s a freshness and brightness to this wine. It has good structure and acidity with sweet cherry and berry fruits, showing some spiciness and a supple, focused personality. Drinking really well but with potential. This is really convincing. 95/100


François Millet
François Millet, the winemaker of superstar estate Comte de Vogue in Burgundy, is no stranger to Central Otago, having worked for the last few years with Paul Pujol in a collaborative project, Cuvée des Antipodes.

François didn’t bring any De Vogue, but instead a wine from a neighbour, Domaine Felletig, who makes the wine in a similar way to François. ‘Chambolle is a unique village in terms of minerality and freshness,’ he says. ‘It is the white pearl of the Côtes de Nuits.’

François first met Paul Pujol when Paul came to Burgundy as an intern in 2009, and in 2013, when François’ son was working as an intern in Central Otago, François popped over to see him. ‘I was amazed,’ he recalls. ‘It was difficult not to fall in love.’ Soon, the two began making Pinot Noir together. ‘I have a lot of admiration for this pioneer wine region,’ says François. ‘I’m coming from a very old region, but we have the same goals, the same satisfactions and the same disappointments. You can’t cheat with Pinot Noir: if you do something wrong, very soon you realize your mistake.’

‘My attitude is to try to understand the site: not to impose anything. In this region, coming from a region with a lot of experience, I think it has a lot of possibilities. I taste the wines from block to block and see very quickly that there is a lot of nuance, and this is very interesting – we have to try to put this into the front. And the vines are getting older: as an average, they are 20.5 years old. This is the start of when the vines begin to get deep into the terroir.’ François’ first collaborative vintage here was 2015. ‘This, 2016 and 2017 have been very different vintages. There us a lot of room to try to find the connection between the land, the sky, the site and the expression of these wines.’

With Pinot Noir, François Millet’s belief is that you give more when you bring less. ‘If you extract too much you gain in structure but you lose in minerality and freshness.’ His interpretation of Central Otago is stunning and involves very little extraction at all.

Glbert Felletig Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Combottes 2015 Burgundy, France
Fresh and focused with nice fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit. There’s nice brightness here with well integrated acidity. Brisk and fruit-driven but with some savoury spiciness. Lovely focus and brightness to the fruit. Pure and long, with a touch of spicy oak. 94/100

Prophets Rock Cuvée Aux Antipodes Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
There’s a subtle green streak here under the beautifully fresh and focused raspberry and cherry fruit. Linear and bright with good acidity, and hints of green olive and crushed herbs. Linear and backward but with some nice fruit sweetness. Serious effort, made with a very light hand and very little extraction. 95/100

PJ Charteris (right), judging with Dave Bicknell at the Melbourne Wine Show

PJ Charteris
PJ Charteris was originally a Kiwi, and studied wine in Roseworthy, Australia. Since then he has worked in Australia, California, Oregon and the Rhone. He had a major stint at Hunter Valley winery Brokenwood from 1999-2011. His own label, Charteris, was founded in 2008.

In South Australia, he got an extractive winemaking indoctrination. He did a couple of vintages in Oregon in 1991/92, then he worked in the Australian corporate sector with Southcorp, and then in 1999 moved to the Hunter Valley. There was an opportunity with Brokenwood buying a large property in Beechworth, and the chance to plant 30 hectares of Pinot Noir opposite Giaconda. ‘There was a steep learning curve in climate and tannin management,’ says PJ. ‘It was an important lesson to learn.’ In 2008 he started his own project in Central Otago.

‘The concept of Pinot is not a new thing in Australia, but good Pinot is a very different story,’ says PJ. ‘Warm climate broad acre viticulture meant that Pinot was confined to the back corner of the wine rack: they were simple wines with confected fruit and a lack of structure. It has been a foil to big extracted reds.’

What’s changed? The transfer of viticultural and winemaking understanding. New Zealand has influenced Australia. ‘New Zealand is one of the few places in the world where people buy Pinot based on region,’ says PJ, ‘because of these regional differences.’

‘To get the most out of your wine you need to understand your vineyard’s personality. No two vintages are the same, but the built up knowledge that comes from this helps the winemaker create their consistency of style. Without understanding and thought it is just luck.’ PJ finished by dropping a slightly controversial statement: human interpretation is important – style almost overrides site.’

Giant Steps Applejack Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Yarra Valley, Australia
This is a 100% whole bunch wine from Steve Flamsteed in the Yarra. There’s a herby, green streak to this wine. It’s very fresh, but it seems to have a lot of whole bunch influence, which is slightly funky, showing ginger, spice and herb characters as well as bright berry fruits. Aiming at elegance and almost getting there. 90/100

Charteris Te Tahi Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh and vivid with a green herby twist that integrates well into the elegant, sappy red cherry fruit. There’s some raspberry crunch, too, but the overall impression is one of freshness and elegance. Lovely poise with good acidity. 94/100

Domaine Labet Les Parcelles Rares Trousseau 2016 Côtes du Jura

Had this at lunch yesterday courtesy of Ashleigh Barrowman of Scotch Wine Bar. It’s a quite beautiful wine, but initially on the nose it is a little scary, with some animal pretty notes (this is a natural wine with no added sulfites and total SO2 of 7 mg/litre). But it’s not a faulty wine: once you get it in your mouth, it all works, and the flavours and aromas all come together beautifully. It’s a gorgeously expressive lighter styled red, something the Jura does so well.

Domaine Labet Les Parcelles Rares Trousseau 2016 Côtes du Jura, France 
Light cherry red in colour. This is really aromatic with animally spicy high notes and fresh red cherries. On the palate it is fresh and bright with red cherries and plums, notes of cracked pepper, and a attractive sour cherry/damson twist that adds a little savoruiness. Fresh and delicious; funky but wonderful. 93/100

See also: three Jura wines that thrilled; a Labet Savagnin.

Find this wine with

Take part in a wine study

Dr Wendy Parr is an academic researching the way we perceive wine, based in New Zealand. She and a research group from France are looking for participants in a study. All you have to do is answer, anonymously, a set of questions.

The link is here.

Wendy and her colleagues are serious scientists and the research they’ve conducted in the past has been really interesting, so please take part! They are looking for wine drinkers, professional and amateur, from New Zealand and the UK.

Here’s a list of Wendy’s publications on Google Scholar