Autumn Wines to die for…
The 2016 autumn tasting season is in full swing and you know what – there’s a lot of really good, well priced wine out there despite sterling’s travails. Our currency has been struggling against the euro, the Aussie dollar and just about every other currency (except for South Africa where £1 will now buy you around Rand 15, which should mean some good bargains in around a year or so time). So where to start?
Lea & Sandeman continues to provide an excellent range of Italian and New Zealand in particular despite the avowed French bias. This autumn’s tasting was a SNP tasting – in other words a focus on Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. Amongst the last, the biggest surprise amongst the extensive range of variously priced Burgundies was a 2010 Pommard from Tavannes Domaine Fernand & Laurent Pillot: a lovely rich, slightly oaky nose anticipates a surprisingly full-bodied toasty and warm fine with a smooth, almost brambly finish. Ideal for those who prefer their Pinots with a New Wines World style, and good value at £24.50.
Amongst the many NZ Pinots the ones that got my vote were the Weevil PN The Crater Rim 2010 (£25.95) and the Awatere Selection Two Rivers of Marlborough 2011 (£19.95): these are both excellent value with soft and well-rounded tannins. The Weevil has a lovely herby nose and palate, making it ideal for drinking on is own as well as with food. Very different but well worth trying is the keenly priced, vivacious Kali Hart Pinot Noir 2010 from Talbott Vineyards in California’s Monterey County: this is almost an explosion of fruit held in check by controlled tannins and almost perfect acidity. Very different from its French and Kiwi peers above and great value at £17.95. At the other end of the scale those flush with cash should at least try either the Chacra 55 or the Chacra 32 from Patagonia: not Argentinian Pinot as you will ever have tasted it, this extraordinary full-tasting but relatively low alcohol wine (around 11.5%). Very fragrant, very herby and light but also alluring and delicious.
Armit’s tasting selection was, as ever, impeccable, with Italy, France, New Zealand and Australia all well represented. Some of its Alsace wines are well worth trying: Domaine Agathe Bursin’s Riesling Grand Cru Zinnkoepfle 2012 (around £24) is delicious, perfectly balanced with fine acidity and lots of apple and pear on the palate. Also excellent are the wines from Domaine Thomas Boeckel in particular its unusual, highly accessible Sylvaner Grand Cru Zotzenberg 2011 (around £19) and the Gewurzt Grand Cru Zotzenberg 2011 (around £18), although the latter in particular should age well.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from Armit were the wines from the Gusborne Estate in Kent. Not a winery I am familiar with, the big focus here not surprisingly is on sparkling wine (the stand alone Pinot Noir is brave but not a winner)…and these are simply the best British wines I have tasted. The Blanc de Blancs 2009 and the Rose 2010 are attractive, with lots of fruit and good acidity. The real winner here is the well-structured Brut Reserve 2008, a marvellously complex blend of the three traditional champagne grape varieties with lovely biscuity notes and warm, toasty fruit. All this for just £22 a bottle….
Fans of Turkish wines should not miss the wines from Urla Sarapcilik, exclusive to Armit and quite delicious. The Nexus 2011 at £18 is great with lots of rich dark fruit and light oak; even better is the blend Nero d’Avola and Urla Karasi 2011, the latter a grape completely unique to Urla.
For those with deeper pockets, Freemark Abbey is the place to visit. This Californian winery’s best wine is a delicious Cabernet, the Sycamore 2005, with lots of fruit and wonderful depth making this the archetypal Napa Cabernet. Cheaper at around £17 bottle, the Viognier 2011 is proof that the Californians can work wonders with this Rhone grape.
The selection of wines from Antipodean specialist Hallowed Ground just gets better and better, in all price brackets, though the focus continues to be on small wineries rather than the big producers which usually dominate most Australian lists in particular. Amongst their Kiwi wines, the range from Te Whare Ra, in Marlborough, is particularly good value. I liked the Pinot Noir and the Syrah but TWR really excels in its whites. Try the enticing, aromatic and well-balanced Riesling D 2012 (RRP £20.95), the ambitious and layered Toru 2012 ( an Alsace blend of Riseling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, £20.50) and the nicely perfumed, almost sweet Gewurzt 2011 (£23.95). Mountford Estate's wines are also tasting very well: the recent news that famed blind winemaker CP Lin is leaving the winery will disappoint those who appreciated the special qualities he bought to his wines. Amongst the white, I recommend the intruiging, almost scented 2011 Hommage a l'Alsace (£45) and the very-big-for-NZ 2009 Estate Chardonnay (15% alcohol, £38): aged on the lees for 19 months and fermented in French oak, this has wonderful warm fruit and is very moreish. Top of the range though, and selling for just under £100, is Lin's 2009 The Rise Pinot Noir. Just 120 cases of this remarkable wine were made and with Lin's departure, no more will be produced – so snap up now.
Amongst Hallowed Ground's generally impressive Australian offerings, I would recommend:
2009 The Paringa Chardonnay (£48) and 2008 The Paringa Pinot Noir (£89.95). All the wines made by this Mornington Peninsula winery are good, reflecting Victoria's ever-improving profile on the Australian wine map but these two deserve special mention for their sheer class.
Teusner Wines 2012 Avatar GSM (£27.95). many of the GSMs from Australian that I have tasted recently have been hit and miss; this one shows exactly how its meant to be done with the silk spicyness of the mouvedre finding full expression via the other two grapes.
Ulithorne Wines NV Flamma Sparking Shiraz (£45). If you thought sparking shiraz was, almost by definition, a joke wine, think again: this is a serious, full-bodied, lusty shiraz but sparking (obviously). Well worth trying if you want something very different but also very good.
Interesting wines for interesting times
It's a sobering thought - enough almost to make you put down your glass for a moment - that some 70-80% of all wines bought by British winebuyers come from a supermarket. Some - think Waitrose in particular, but also the Coop - have excellent wine lists that reveal the full diversity of the new world and the old, with wines from such places as Lebanon and Georgia even getting a listing. Some are not so good - think Somerfield (still up and running remarkably, despite now being part of the Coop) Morrisons and Tesco, which sells far too much boring wine. Hardy's, Nottage Hill, Blossom Hill, Jacob's Creek, the ever-present Gallo....the list is depressingly long, and getting longer as once respected brands such as Brown Brothers and Rosemount Estate sacrifice quality for quantity. And some are just plain dull - think Sainsbury's, which despite having improved on the food front, and in terms of overall value, still suffers from a largely uninspiring list.
For this reason, we hope to be able to bring to your attention each month wines that are truly outstanding, either in terms of value for money or in their sheer quality and appeal. Taxes now take well over £2.50 of the price of a bottle of wine - which means that by the time the distributor, store and bottler has been paid, the real value of the product in that bottle of £3.99 supermarket wine you've just bought is literally pennies. Yet good deals can be found and we hope to bring as many to you as we can, although many we recommend may cost a lot more than you might usually spend.
Mindful of the pressure on profits at some of the big off-trade firms like Wine Rack - which has made finding deals from such stores harder than before - we will try and make recommendations of wines from smaller, less well-known retailers, like Handford Wines (in London's South Kensington) and the Wine Cellar at the Bluebird, which on the evidence of some recent tastings has lined up some truly impresive offerings on its shelves. And we hope to be able to sing the praises of offerings from Oddbins, which under its newish management is struggling to recover from the ravages wrought when under the ownership of French company Castel.
But just how do you rate a wine - other than just saying it's good or bad? It's a topic that has kept wine writers engaged for years and there is still no clear or satisfactory answer. Many object to Robert Parker's scoring system, which is out of 100, whilst others prefer a simple 1 to 5 scale. For this site, we have opted for a system that rates a wine out of 20.