Late last year I had a lovely time attending Rootsock Sydney
. It’s a lovely not-for-profit wine fair focusing on natural wines. One of the very best.
I really enjoyed it, but I was a bit worried by the obsession with winemaking processes in defining ‘natural’, and in particular with the fixation on sulfur dioxide levels. In a blog post, I suggested it needed to return to he vineyard.
This year, they’ve shifted the emphasis. It’s now not just about what you do or don’t do to your wine. There’s a welcome emphasis on farming well, too. To quote from the guidelines to the producers:
In 2016, we are focusing more strongly than ever on the vineyard and fruit sources – this festival we will only admit wines coming from organic (as Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products, AS 6000-2009 or organic / biodynamic certification) farming – if you have mixed sources for farming, we understand, but wines to be shown must be from sustainably farmed vineyards.
For the sake of transparency, we will indicate producers using mixed sources (organic and other) as ‘in transition’, but only wines coming from organic fruit sources and 100% hand harvest only can be shown at RS16.
From 2019 RS will exclusively invite producers 100% natural farming (as Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products, AS 6000-2009 or organic / biodynamic certification).
This is a smart and sensible step. The natural wine movement should be focusing more on the vineyard. And good natural winemaking preserves the characters of the vineyards, capturing them somehow in the wine. Bad natural winemaking results in wines that taste more of the process: ‘natural’. Sometimes, effective use of SO2, particularly at bottling, can help with this.
These are the winemaking guidelines for participation at Rootstock:
Only indigenous yeasts on all production.
No additions such as enzymes, acids, sugars and tannins.
No heavy manipulation or winemaking technology (reverse osmosis, spinning cones, etc)
No fruit concentration, or raising alcohol levels
Minimal use of oak. No wood chips.
No clarification or fining through additions.
Filtration kept at minimal and must be noted.
We encourage producers to add as little sulphur as possible where no wines on show at RS2016 can be more than 50ppm total sulphur.
This looks like as sensible definition of natural wine that I have seen. It could be a model for other natural wine fairs to follow.
Had a lovely dinner with Dan Keeling at Noble Rot last night. The food was as good as ever, and the wines were just thrilling. I’ve rarely drunk as well, or as much.
Raveneau Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 1992 Burgundy, France
This is such a beautiful wine, although it faded a bit over the course of drinking it. It has a thrilling nose of toast, marmalade, lemon zest and nuts. The palate is pure, precise and lemony with a spicy edge to the citrus peel and hazelnut characters. Intense with a really long finish, and subtle waxy notes. 95/100
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
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
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Chris Hatcher, Wolf Blass winemaker
This is the 50th year of Wolf Blass as a wine company, and it’s also the 40th vintage of the Wolf Blass Black Label. So winemaker Chris Hatcher was in town to present a vertical of this wine back to 1974.
Wolf made his first wine in 1967, when he produced his Grey Label Cabernet Shiraz from the Langhorne Creek. He later purchased wine to release the 1966 Yellow Label, but the 1967 was the first wine he made. The Black Label saw its debut in 1973. There are only two bottles of this left, so we started our vertical with the 1974. 1973, 1974 and 1975 all won the celebrated Jimmy Watson tropy, the only time this hattrick has been achieved.
‘If you go back through the show records,’ says Hatcher, ‘you’ll say it’s the most awarded red wine in Australia. The 1994 is the only vintage not to win a gold medal, and it averages 7 gold medals a vintage.
This is a blended wine. It’s based around Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, with a bit of Malbec, these days (since 2002). The proportion varies each year. Volumes also vary. ‘We can blend for consistency of style,’ says Hatcher. ‘There’s no recipe here. The terroirs make the wine. Each of the terroirs brings the quality to the components in the blend.’
The Wolf Blass house style is for a plush mid palate with soft tannins: the feeling is that a wine should be read to drink when it is sold. The wines today have more fruit character and less oak. ‘Back in the early 1970s Wolf used a lot of new American oak to get sweetness on the palate,’ explained Hatcher. ‘Today we get it from the fruit. There’s also a much higher use of French oak.’
Hatcher says that the big change through the years is in the shift in emphasis from the winery to the vineyard. ‘I came into the industry in 1974, and we didn’t know anything about viticulture. The biggest change in the industry is now we have professional viticulturists. We used to think we could fix everything in the vineyard.’
One other change was the shift from cork to screwcap. Wolf Blass used screwcap for the first time in 2001 for the Platinum Label. In 2002 they bottled half the Black Label with screwcap and half with cork, and the screwcap wine sold out fastest. Since 2003 it’s all been screwcap, with the exception of some cork used for the Chinese market, which isn’t ready for screwcaps on top red wines.
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1974 South Australia
There were two bottles of this opened. My note is from the fresher of the two. Some sweet cherries and plums on the nose. Quite rich with some cedar spiciness. Has a mellow maturity but still plenty of fruit. There’s a slight trace of mint with lovely soft tannins. Mellow and elegant. 92/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1979 South Australia
Ripe, rich and broad. Mellow with sweet cherry and plum fruit. Really expressive and harmonious. Restrained and quite pure with hints of cedar and earth, and sleek ripe fruit. Elegant and mature but still has life to it. 94/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1982 South Australia
Ripe, malty and quite porty with lush sweet tarry black fruits. Some fudge and toffee notes under the fruit. Mint and cedar, too. It’s slightly disjointed and fully mature and perhaps a bit tired. 88/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Merlot 1984 South Australia
Aromatic black fruits nose with herbs, earth and mint. Ripe, sweet palate still has plenty of stuffing, and there’s a rich, tarry, cedary core. Spicy and lively with a minty freshness. Developed and fully mature so drink now. 91/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1992 South Australia
Sweet, ripe and a bit earthy with nice depth and richness. Soft, earthy, tarry herby notes under the fruit. A bit spicy and drying on the finish. Herbs, earth, spice and tar here. Grippy. 90/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 South Australia
89% Cabernet this vintage, the most ever. Pure, enticing, vivid blackcurrant and cedar nose. Very appealing. Dense and ripe. Structured and cedary on the palate with some tarry, gravelly notes. Has richness and lushness to the fruit. A big wine with real impact that has developed nicely. 93/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2002 South Australia
The first vintage in screwcap. Minty blackcurrant fruit nose. Firm, grippy structure on the palate, under the sleek, sweet blackcurrant fruit. Quite firm and unyielding with a youthful personality and a bit of alcoholic heat. Finish is a touch bitter. Will this ever develop? 91/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2004 South Australia
Pure, intense, lush black fruit here. Very youthful with some spiciness and good structure. Ripe but has freshness and a juicy edge to the slightly salty black fruits. Still very primary. Well made. 92/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010 South Australia
Pure, sweet floral blackcurrant and black cherry aromatics. Dense, sweet, supple palate is very ripe and polished, with a salty edge to the sweet primary black fruits. Pure with no rough edges. Satisfying stuff in a ripe, friendly style. 92/100
Wolf Blass Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz Malbec 2012 South Australia
Aromatic, floral, pure blackcurrant and blackberry fruit nose. Ripe, sweet, lush black fruits to the fore with a hint of spiciness. Lush, pure and easy with nice density. This is a real crowd pleaser. Still very primary. 91/100
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Johan ‘Stompie’ Meyer is one of the most highly regarded of South Africa’s new wave winegrowers. He makes the wines for Mount Abora (as a consultant), and has his own project, JH Meyer Wines. And this is a new venture for him: Mother Rock/Force Majeure, a joint venture with his UK agent Indigo Wines.
Mother Rock is a new label, with Force Majeure a more affordable pair of wines that have been made for a few years now. Meyer farms organically, and makes the wines naturally. ‘I make more natural wines, but I’m trying to be clean rather than funky,’ he explains. The only addition is a bit of SO2 at bottling. ‘I’ve been working the vines for a while now,’ he explains. ‘It takes a few years to get the vineyard into balance.’ Typically he will do three picks: one to get acid, and then two subsequent ones. He doesn’t acidify. ‘You have to be so clean in the cellars,’ he says.
‘I want to make honest, clean natural wines showing the terroir rather than a style,’ says Meyer. He’s succeeding very well.
Force Majeure Chenin Blanc 2015 Swartland, South Africa
80% stainless steel, 20% barrel. Unirrigated bush vines from decomposed granite. Starts off oxidative and the juice goes brown before fermentation starts. Really bright and lively with citrus, pear, spice and tangerine. Very lively and focused with ripe apple and lemon characters. Mineral and intense. 92/100
Mother Rock White 2015 Swartland, South Africa
61% Chenin Blanc, 16% Viognier, 11% Grenache Blanc, 8% Semillon, 4% Harslevelu. The idea here is to take an overview of the Swartland with different varieties and different soils. Lovely fresh citrus, pear, apricot and tangerine notes, with some ripe apple. Fresh, detailed and fine with nice precision. 94/100
Mother Rock Liquid Skin 2015 Swartland, South Africa
This spends 9 weeks on skins, whole bunch, with pigeage once a day until fermentation finishes. It’s from a dry grown bush vine vineyard planted in 1975 on decomposed granite. Yellow/orange in colour it has a lovely perfume and fine texture on the palate, showing quince and apricot with real finesse. Grippy but not aggressive, it is so expressive. 94/100
Force Majeure Rosé 2015 Swartland, South Africa
This is a Cinsault from kofeeklip soils. Pale pink in colour, it was picked at 18 Brix when some of the grapes were still green, and already had a pH of 3.5. Very lively, fresh and quite textural with zippy, juicy cherry fruit and a hint of citrus and herb. 90/100
Force Majeure Red 2015 Swartland, South Africa
This is 70% Syrah made carbonically, combined with press juice from the other reds. Beautiful fresh, floral aromatics with some meaty notes. Lovely raspberry fruit. Juicy, focused and a bit gripp with nice vibrant red fruits and some peppery hints. 93/100
Mother Rock Carignan Cinsault 2015 Swartland, South Africa
11.5% alcohol. An equal parts blend of Carignan from granite and Cinsault from koffeeklip soils, both old vine. 100% whole bunch, some crushed with the feet. Very fresh and vivid with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit. Pure, grippy and structured with nice acidity. Very lively with purity and vibrancy. 94/100
Mother Rock Grenache 2015 Swartland, South Africa
11.8% alcohol. Decomposed granite with some Malmesbury shale. 100% whole bunch, 8 weeks on skins. Very fine, perfumed and expressive with a slightly herby nose or red cherries with tea leaf detail. Vibrant, juicy, pure red cherry fruit palate is so expressive. Complex, pure and beautiful. Haunting. 96/100
Mother Rock Syrah 2015 Swartland, South Africa
Granite with some shale, picked in three stages. Floral perfumed nose of raspberries and red cherries with subtle meatiness. Very pure, vital palate with fresh raspberry and cherry fruit. Juicy and linear with nice acidity. Real potential here. 94/100
Mother Rock Mourvèdre 2015 Swartland, South Africa
25 year old vines with sandy topsoil over granite. Expressive, perfumed, with a red apple edge to the fine tea, spice, tar and black cherry fruit. Grippy black fruits on the palate with some smooth cherry fruit. Unusual but nice. 92/100
UK agent: Indigo Wines
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A while back I went to my first ever chocolate tasting. It was held at the Winemakers Club under the arches at Farringdon, with Spencer Hyman of Cocoa Runners. The theme was dark milk chocolate.
I know practically nothing about chocolate, so this was an interesting educational experience. It also gave me insight as to how normal people might feel approaching wine for the first time.
Spencer began by explaining quality tiers in chocolate in terms of coffee quality.
- There’s the chocolate equivalent of instant coffee: confectionary such as toblerone and dairy milk.
- Then there’s filter coffee, whose chocolate equivalent would be Lindt or Green and Black.
- Finally, we have geek coffee, such as Monmouth or Square Mile. This would be the high-end artisan or craft chocolate that was until recently quite hard to get, made from great beans and great fruit: Duffy and Pump Street.
The cost of making chocolate has gone down with the invention of new machines. There are now extraordinary chocolate makers who have been able to establish themselves without huge capital cost.
So how is chocolate made? Of interest to wine lovers is the fact that chocolate is a fermented product, and the fermentation process can alter its flavour. The starting point is the cacao tree, Thebroma cacao. The pods are harvested, cut open and the pulp, containing the beans, is scooped out. This mass is allowed to ferment for several days, and then the beans are dried. This is the bit the farmer does.
The next stage takes place in the chocolate-making facility. The beans are cracked and winnowed to remove their papery shells, leaving what are called ‘nibs’. These are ground into a paste called the chocolate liquor. It consists of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
A hydraulic press is then used to separate the solids and the butter, in a process known as slamming. The cocoa butter can be saved to be recombined with the solids at a later stage, or – as occurs in some cheaper chocolates – it is sold off and then replaced with vegetable fats in the final chocolate. But the purpose of separating out the solids is so they can be further refined, in a process known as conching. This uses a container filled with metal beads that grind the particles very finely.
The solids are then recombined with the butter and this is the stage where flavourings can be added. It’s followed by a process called tempering, which is a controlled crystallization of the chocolate using a series of heating and cooling steps.
Bonnat, Javan Dark Milk
Cocoa content, 65%; Bean origin, Indonesia; Maker country; France. Creamy and a bit spicy, with a nice smoothness in the mouth. Textural with a bit of spiciness. Very smooth. 6/10
Bonnat, Surabaya Dark Milk
65%, Indonesia, France. Lively, spicy, creamy and delicious. Not very chocolatey – more creamy. Some fruity notes. 5.5/10
Tcho, Serious Milk
53%, Ecuador/Peru, USA. Smooth with nice caramel notes and some spice. Very easy but with a bit of bite. Sweet but has some cacao flavour. 6.5/10
Duffy, Mayan Red Milk
61%, Honduras, UK. Grainy and a bit spicy with lovely black savoury notes. Grainy and earthy with some nice chalkiness and some spice. Some biscuit too. 6.5/10
Fruition, Dark Milk With Flor du Sal
56%, Peru, USA. So attractive and fruity with nice spiciness and a salty edge. This brings out the fruit, and there’s also some spice here. Textural and delicious. 8.5/10
Zotter, Milk Chocolate Dark Style
70%, Nicaragua, Austria. This has no added sugar. Dry, savoury and a bit grippy. Textural with some depth of flavour. Very complex and full of interest: you miss the sugar at first but then it entices. 8/10
Original Beans, Femmes de Virunga
55%, Virunga National Park Congo, Switzerland. Very smooth and textured, but with a lovely fruity quality. Has freshness. Very creamy and textural. 8/10
Mast Brothers, Sheep Milk
60% Peru, USA. Quite broad and fat. Smooth with a sheepy edge, and some grainy notes. Very interesting with a distinctive flavour. 7/10
Mast Brothers, Goat Milk
60%, Peru, USA. Very cheesy and goaty. Distinctive flavour here with a pungent finish. Farmyardy and odd. 6/10
Zotter, Labooko Brazil
35%, Brazil, UK. Very creamy with a coconut edge and lovely smooth texture. Sweet and delicious: tastes like a white chocolate. This has more cocoa butter than solids. 7.5/10
For future tastings see cocoarunners.com/events
Website: Stolpman Vineyards
Back in the 1970s, Tom Stolpman, who was then in his late teens, was running a valet car parking service in the Hollywood Hills to help him through his studies at UCLA. This is when he caught the wine bug. He got married, and took his wife Marilyn to Napa for a honeymoon in 1974. Stolpman went on to become a lawyer (he still practices), but by the time he decided he’d really like a vineyard in the late 1980s, Napa had become overvalued, so he started looking at the central coast. Inspired by Josh Jensen and his obsession with limestone, Stolpman decided that he wanted to find potential vineyard land with some limestone.
He found a site. There were big limestone boulders on the surface, and he found that under the loamy clay top soil, this was just pure limestone: potentially a perfect site. But along came the Perrins, who were also looking for limestone, and they spilled the beans to the cattle rancher who owned the site that this was ideal vineyard land. The cattle rancher tried to get a bidding war started. Stolpman’s bravado, however, scared off the Perrins who went and discovered what is now Tablas Creek in Paso Robles. This all delayed things by a couple of years, but Stolpman eventually got the land he wanted in 1990. This is Ballard Canyon, and back then there were no other vineyards here. It’s a 220 acre property, with 153 acres of vines.
Since 2013, Ballard Canyon has been an AVA, and there are now 17 vineyards here. It’s a 7000 acre AVA with 550 acres planted, and it’s a sub AVA of Santa Ynez Valley, which is 70 000 acres. Syrah is the main grape variety planted.
The climate here is that the day starts off with cool fogs, then gets warm in the afternoon. There’s a huge diurnal shift of 40 F in the growing season. The distinctive thing about this vineyard is that it is dry grown. The vines are irrigated for the first five years, and then weaned off. They reach a natural balance and produce small crops of high quality grapes. The clay in the soil is critical in making dry farming possible in such a dry region.
Peter Stolpman, Tom’s son, took over here in 2009. Until then the majority of the grapes had been sold, but since then production of the Stolpman wines has risen three-fold from 5000 to 15 000 cases. The wines are made by Sashi Moorman, of Domaine de la Côte, Sandhi and Evening Land. Sashi has been on board since 2001 when Tom hired him – at the time he was just 27 and was the assistant winemaker for Adam Tolmach. Another very important figure here is vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, who has been here since 1994 and lives on the property. Peter is proud of the fact that everyone who works on the vineyard is employed full time.
Stolpman Roussanne 2013 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
15-18 months in 500 litre new oak puncheons. This is a late ripening variety that’s picked in late October or early November. It’s rich but still has freshness with bold, spicy flavours of pear and peach along with some toast and nut characters. It’s quite oily and there’s some new wood evident, but also some freshness. 92/100
Stolpman L’Avion Roussanne 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
This is a cherry-picked selection of the Roussanne. Highly aromatic showing rich, nuanced aromas of pear, peach and spice. The palate is rich but has fine notes of melon and pear. Very stylish and pure with lovely depth. Fine, showing nice focus and weight. 94/100
Stolpman Carbonic Sangiovese 2014 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Picked early, carbonic maceration. Pale cherry red colour. Fresh and juicy with lovely red cherries and plums. Juicy, pure and drinkable. So pretty with a bit of grip. 92/100
Stolpman Syrah Para Maria de los Fecobles 2014 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Fresh, meaty and a bit spicy with ripe, generous, sweet black fruits. It has a fresh grainy, peppery structure. Lovely juicy sweet black fruits here. Generous, ripe and structured. 92/100
Stolpman Syrah 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
50% whole bunch, aged in concrete. Floral and enticing with red and black cherries plus notes of mint and medicine. Vivid, peppery undertones here. Spicy and vivid with nice grip and real freshness to the ripe fruit. A very precise wine. 94/100
Stolpman Originals Syrah 2012 Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, California
Powerfully perfumed with a nose of pepper, spice, dried herbs and meat. Generous black cherry fruit on the palate along with spice. Sweetly fruited but with a grainy, chalky structure and real finesse. This has lovely focus and freshness. 95/100
UK agent Flint Wines
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I’m quite a fan of Provence rosé, which is one of the wine world’s big success stories. Quality has improved, and although it’s rare to find an example that stops you in your tracks – it’s not a geek wine – there’s a real consistency to these wines. They are context wines, and in the right context you want the wine to do the job it is chosen for. And Provence rosé does this brilliantly. In Provence, there’s a huge resonance with the wine and the place, and this is one of the secrets to its success. I tried 24 well regarded examples, and these are my notes. They are stratified by score, but within each score category order is random.
Château Léoube Secret de Léoube 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Textured, fresh and pure with lovely elegant fine pear fruit with nice nutty hints. A very fine, elegant style. 92/100
Château La Coste Bellugue 2015 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France
Lively and fresh with a nice citrus edge to the fresh cherry and raspberry fruit, showing lovely textureand brightness. 91/100
Château du Galoupet Tibur 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
90% Tibouren, 10% Grenache. Very pure, lively and linear with subtle, elegant cherry fruit, with green apple and citrus notes. Lovely. 91/100
Château Calissanne Clos Victoire 2015 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France
Fresh and bright with citrus and pear fruit. Textured and elegant with nice precision. Bright fruit: a lovely wine. 91/100
Château Peyrassol 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Lively and complex with nice citrus, tangerine and herbs, alongside red cherry hints. Has brightness and focus, but also elegance. 91/100
Château Thuerry Les Abeillons 2015 Coteaux Varois en Provence, France
Bright with nice sweet cherry and pear fruit. Lovely texture here: rounded and quite full. Lemony finish. 90/100
Hecht & Bannier 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Bright with nice fresh cherry fruit with lovely soft texture. Pure with lovely balance. 90/100
Domaine de Valdition Vallon des Anges 2015 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France
Subtle and fine with nice pear fruit. Rounded and textural with a pithy, waxy undercurrent. 90/100
Château d’Esclans Rock Angel 2014 Côtes de Provence, France
Very bright and fresh with pure red cherry fruit and a citrus core. Linear and lovely. 90/100
Estandon Héritage 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Very pale. Nice rounded cherry fruit with some pear fruit. Textured and attractive. Delicate and rounded. 90/100
Saint André de Figuière Premiére de Figuière 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Pale colour. Fresh, bright and pure. Linear with textured pear, strawberry and cherry fruit. Fresh. 90/100
Château Léoube Rosé de Léobe 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Rounded and textural with nice pear fruit, together with some strawberry and cherry. It’s a tiny bit creamy with a lovely rounded character. 90/100
Rimauresq R 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Fresh, open and a bit stony with bright red cherries and nice tangerine notes. Quite mineral. 90/100
Domaine des Sarrins Grande Cuvée 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Textured, bright and fresh with nice vivid, open fruit. A touch of herbiness. Attractive. 89/100
Château La Coste Rosé d’une Nuit 2015 Château Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France
Pale and textureal with fresh cherry fruit. Rounded with nice balance. 89/100
Château Pigoudet Classic 2015 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France
Very pale in colour. Taut citrus fruit with nice brightness. Lively, zippy and a bit mineral. 89/100
Château Sainte Roseline 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Fresh and bright with red cherry and pear fruit. This has some texture. Quite pure and has a long finish. 89/100
Rimauresq Quintessence 2014 Côtes de Provence, France
Stony and mineral. Linear, citrussy with subtle nuttiness. Ambitious. 89/100
Ferry Lacombe Naos 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Lively with nice cherry and some raspberry. Vibrant with nice texture. 89/100
Château La Mascaronne Quat’saisons 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Very pale in colour. Nice apple and pear fruit with a hint of citrus. Nice weight. 89/100
Famille Sumeire Château Coussin 2015 Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, France
Bright and stony with lively citrus notes, some pear, and nice freshness. Linear style. 88/100
Château Roubine La Vie en Rose 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Lively and bright with nice citrus fruit. A bit nutty, in a nice precise style. Distinctive packaging. 88/100
Château Vignelaure Source de Vignelaure 2015 Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France
Slightly creamy edge to the focused cherry and pear fruit. Has a soft dairy edge but bright, elegant fruit. 88/100
Minuty Prestige 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Bright and lively with nice pear and citrus fruit. Rounded texture: very attractive. 88/100
Château de Pamleonne 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Lively with a hint of tangerine and nice pear and citrus fruit. Attractively textured and pure. 88/100
Château de Saint-Martin Eternelle Favourite 2015 Côtes de Provence, France
Tibouren and Syrah. Distinctive bottle shape. Very lively and herby. Bright and focused with slight creaminess. 87/100
See also: Selling Pleasure: a series based on a visit to Provence to look at rosé
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A few years ago – back in November 2008 – I was judging wine in Porto. I met up with some Portuguese wine people for dinner, and ended up leaving with a magnum of this. I remember getting a lift up to my floor at 3 am with the manager of the Canadian rugby team that was in town and he asked me about the bottle. It’s not every day that you get a chance to open a magnum of a lighter-styled Portuguese red, but an opportunity opened up where I felt there was a receptive audience, so at age 8 and a bit I popped the cork. I wasn’t disappointed.
Conceito Bastardo 2007 Douro, Portugal
From magnum. This was stunning when I first tried it back in 2008: a lighter Douro red that was almost like a rosé. How has it aged? It’s a beautifully aromatic wine with sweet floral red cherry fruit. So perfumed. The palate is smooth, sweet and silky. Beautifully elegant and ethereal with fine spiciness. Warm yet pure, this is lovely. 95/100
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This is, I think, the last bottle of a batch of this wine that I bought very inexpensively a few years ago. This is the thing with Riesling: if you love it, you are a happy camper, because you can get really good Riesling very affordably. It’s made by Dr Andrew Hedley at Framingham, and he’s New Zealand’s top Riesling specialist. Hedley manages to coax something out of Riesling that very few Marlborough winegrowers can with this variety: wines with poise, complexity and balance, and the ability to age. I’m really enjoying this wine, which is in a good place right now.
Framingham Classic Riesling 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
11.5% alcohol. This is a lovely dry Riesling made by Framingham, who are Marlborough’s Riesling experts. It’s not an expensive wine (the range encompasses some very special bottlings), but it has aged really well. Some evolution on the nose, showing toast, herbs, lime oil and honey. The palate is pristine, though, with lovely minerally, lemony fruit and notes of tangerine and herbs. It’s rounded and generous, yet dry. There’s just a lovely presence and harmony to this wine. Why don’t more people buy these wines and age them? 92/100
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I’m a big fan of Craig Hawkins’ Testalonga wines. They’re very brave and distinctive. He works pretty naturally, so the big question: how do they evolve? This one had evolved very well indeed, and was spectacular.
Testalonga Cortez El Bandito 2009 Swartland, South Africa
This Chenin Blanc was made with no added sulphites, so how does it look at age 7? Tight, reductive and pure with pristine lemony fruit and some matchtick minerality. Intense lemony fruit here belies the age of this wine, which is linear and pure. It’s picked up some complexity on the way, too. Stunning. 96/100