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the wine anorak's
wines of
  the year 2002
wine highlights

Here I've selected my favourite wines from the past year. It's a personal selection, and as such I've let my personal quirks and biases lead me. Value for money and availability were not taken into account in compiling this list.

We start with Portugal, and specifically two of Dirk Niepoort's wines. Batuta looks set to define the standard in the Douro for some years to come, and Niepoort's 2000 vintage port is being hailed as one of the stars of a superb vintage. The two Madeiras are wonderfully complex, idiosyncratic wines. 

Niepoort Batuta 1999 Douro, Portugal
The first vintage of this wine, which is based on grapes from Niepoort’s own vineyard at Quinta do Carril. This north facing site has an average vine age of 60 years, and yields are a miserly 10 hl/ha. Opaque red/purple colour. Very rich spicy herby nose is complex with tarry, liquoricey notes. The palate is extremely rich and concentrated, with firm tannins and spicy complexity. Wonderful stuff with real character. Sensationally good. Excellent  

Niepoort Vintage Port 2000, Douro, Portugal
Opaque colour. Tremendous liqouricey, spicy nose. Very deep and dense: this is a massive wine with sweet, rich fruit and firm, spicy tannins. Deep and concentrated, with huge structure. Excellent

D’Oliveiras Reserva 1968 Boal, Madeira
Brown/orange colour. Striking, articulate nose of lifted acid, caramel, toffee, tar and smoke. The palate is rich with raisiny sweetness brilliantly balanced by the slightly bitter high acid finish. A remarkable complex old wine full of character. Excellent 

Barbeito ‘Single Harvest’ Madeira Tinta Negra Mole 1995
Tinta Negra Mole is traditionally a bulk Madeira grape variety, but Barbeito are trying to show that it’s possible to produce interesting wines from it. This example is cask matured and displays a wonderfully complex nose with spice, vanilla and caramel notes. The palate is medium sweet with a lovely texture and huge spicy, rich complexity. Quite wonderful, and a great introduction to the charms of decent Madeira. Excellent 

Staying with the Iberian theme we move to Spain. I've had some wonderful Spanish wines this last year, and these three probably stand out.

Alvaro Palacios L’Ermita 1999, Priorat
This is a blend of 80% Garnacha, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cariñena. Opaque purple colour. Massively rich and intense nose, displaying a tarry, minerally lift, spicy, liquoricey complexity and a fresh-ground coffee edge. There are also some sweet herbal notes. The palate shows a huge concentration of spicy, berry fruit with massive tannic structure underneath. There’s a lot of oak evident but there is also good acidity and a strong mineral streak. Hard to assess so young: the sweetness of the fruit and oak makes it approachable now, and it doesn’t lack elegance, even thought it’s a big wine. Remarkable. Excellent

1997 Alión, Ribera del Duero, Spain
Owned by Vega Sicilia, Alión is a separate estate making Tempranillo-based wines in a slightly different style to its illustrious parent. And this is a superb wine from a year that's supposed not to have been very successful in 1997. Quite deep coloured, there's a compelling mineral edge to the deeply fruited, almost meaty nose. It has a superb, richly liquoricey palate with a great density of berry fruit combining well with the oak. There's a savoury, meaty, earthy edge and it's quite tight knit and brooding. Excellent 

Contino Reserva Rioja 1982, Spain
Yes, this wine is expensive, but it's very, very good and drinking at its peak now. Contino is a single-estate Rioja, linked with CVNE by part shared ownership but autonomously run. Mid-coloured with a touch of fading at the rim. Lovely rich exotic nose of sweet herbs and spices, with a touch of tar and smoke. The palate shows great balance: it’s quite exotic and rich with a lovely leathery edge to the sweet fruit that is still there. Drink now. Excellent 

The Northern Rhône is one of my favourite regions, and I've indulged myself with picking five favourites. Côte Rôtie has the greatest concentration of quality-minded producers in the region, and four picks come from here. J.L. Chave is Hermitage's best producer by a mile, and is my other selection.  

Michel Ogier Côte Rôtie 1995, Northern Rhône
Very deep coloured. Powerful, meaty nose has a lovely perfumed bacon-like edge. Rich, but still quite elegant with smooth, classy raspberry fruit. The palate is extremely savoury with firm tannins, herby fruit and high acidity. Hints of green olives and stinky cheese, too. A sensational wine. Excellent  

Michel Ogier Côte Rôtie ‘La Belle Hélène’ Côte Rozier Vielles Vignes 1995, Northern Rhône
Ogier’s most recent release of this special bottling of Côte Rôtie, which is matured in new barrels, was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker, so expect the pricing go into the stratosphere. This 1995 has a sensational nose with liquoricey, meaty green olive-tinged fruit. Lovely complexity. Rich, spicy, meaty palate is wonderfully complex. The new oak seems to bring out the best in this wine without being in any way dominant. Excellent  

Gilles Barge Côte Rôtie Cuvée du Plessy 1999
Wonderful nose: complex, smoky and spicy with perfumed meaty, green-olive character. The palate is spicy and tannic, but with lots of rich, savoury fruit and no trace of unripeness or austerity. It’s rich and juicy and the tannins are fine grained. A brilliant expression of Côte Rôtie. Excellent

JP & JL Jamet Côte Rôtie 1999
Quite a rich, fragrant nose showing a touch of oak, along with spicy meaty notes. The palate is dense and rich with lots of spicy character and some new oak. With good acid and tannic structure, this is brilliantly balanced with lots of potential. Don’t open for another five years as I suspect this is soon to close down. Excellent  

J. L. Chave Hermitage 1988, Northern Rhône
Still very deeply coloured, this is a remarkable wine. The rich, meaty, savoury nose has some animal-like complexity and leads to a dense, slightly stern palate. There’s still lots of tannic structure but some savoury richness too. Full-on and completely delicious. Shame about the price of the current release, but given the quality of this fourteen year-old example it’s easy to see why. Excellent

Northeastern Italian whites have been one of my favourite discoveries in the past year, so here are two brilliant examples, both from Silvio Jermann.

Silvio Jermann Afix Riesling 2000 IGT Delle Venezie, Italy
The second Fruili wine to make this month's selection. Silvio Jermann named this wine after his son (no, he’s not called Afix; this is a name taken from parts of his two first names). Quite a beguiling, delicate floral/fruity nose. It’s quite ‘pretty’, with good density. The palate is rich and rounded showing great balance between the fruit, acidity and the touch of residual sugar. A complex, full flavoured wine, this is mineralic and slightly spicy. Perfectly poised, and brilliant stuff. Excellent 

Silvio Jermann Vinnae 2000 IGT Venezia Giulia, Italy
A blend of Ribolla, Riesling and Malvasia. Very minerally, savoury nose is tight and complex, with a slightly creamy edge. Concentrated, rich-textured mineralic palate, with good acidity and finishes dry. Nicely structured and will no doubt develop. Superb stuff: not showy but very elegant. Excellent 

...followed up with two serious Italian reds.

Castello di Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 1998, Tuscany, Italy
A blend of 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, from Fonterutoli's Siepi (250 m altitude) and Fonterutoli (450 m) vineyards. Deep coloured. Full, striking nose is savoury and exotic at the same time, displaying rich, sweet spicy fruit with lush menthol notes. The palate is concentrated, rich, spicy and savoury with firm tannic structure and good acidity. Very serious. Excellent 

Scarpa Barbaresco ‘I tetti di Nieve’ 1978, Piedmont, Italy
Deep coloured. Intriguing spicy, earthy, slightly meaty nose with rich, sweet medicinal elements. The palate is quite wild, initially showing quite a severe medicinal nature with lots of tannic structure. In the glass it opens out to show rich spicy, balsamic complexity. Quite brilliant, in a robust sort of way. Excellent. 

What about the new world? New Zealand Pinot Noir really hits the mark for me, and here are two of the best.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000, Martinborough
Deep coloured. Wonderfully intense nose of cherries, herbs and dark chocolate. Brilliantly balanced palate is savoury with rich berry fruit. There’s a bit of sweetness to the fruit. Good complexity and density. Excellent

Isabel Estate Pinot Noir 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand
New Zealand's reputation as a leading wine producer stems mostly from its vivid Sauvignons, but I suspect in 10 years time it will be New Zealand Pinot Noir that wins the most critical acclaim. This is a cherry red colour, and has a lovely intense nose showing an attractive medicinal edge to the bright berry fruit. The palate displays a good concentration of savoury, herb-tinged fruit, and although this is a young wine it’s already showing a good degree of complexity. A deeply impressive Pinot Noir that gets it just right. Excellent 

Finally, a couple of sweet wines that were both sensational, in very different styles.

Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 1997, Constantia, South Africa
This is sensationally good. A deep yellow/orange colour the nose shows lovely, complex crystallized fruit and marmalade character: it is sweet and rich with a little lifted acidity to keep it lively. The palate is intense, complex and well balanced despite the sweetness. Quite brilliant. Excellent 

Château d’Yquem 1990 Sauternes 1er Grand Cru Classé, Bordeaux
Deep yellow/orange. Complex and slightly restrained nose of herbs, honey and straw, with hints of vanilla and butterscotch. The palate is intense and waxy with lots of herbal complexity, and notes of caramel and toast. Seamless, well balanced and not overtly sweet this is a legendary wine to sip with reverence. Excellent  

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