Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Wines of the Year

2012 Year in Review

A list of my memorable wines for 2012. My first of such lists, inspired by the number of truly great wines I have had the opportunity to try this year. Most of them would have had more detailed reviews in other posts. Here, I detail the context in which the wines were tasted and why they make the cut. Its divided into four sections: bubbly, whites, reds and sweets/fortifieds, otherwise its in no particular order.


NV Champagne Tarlant Cuvee Louis
Where: Charles Taylor tasting for Cambridge University
Why: In two words, complexity and presence. This would have made the list for still white wine, the fact that its bubbly just makes it better. I adore the Tarlant range at the moment, particularly the Cuvee Louis at its pinnacle.

1982 Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Vintage (disgorged 2011)
Where: Joseph Perrier tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants
Why: Incredible freshness and power even at this age, integrated feel and very long finish. Astonishingly good.


2011 Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux
Where: Chateau Margaux, Bordeaux en primeur campaign April 2012
Why: Even at this stage, this was one stunning wine. Power, length and freshness, not to mention complexity. Absolutely smitten. One of the very few times I didnt spit during the Bordeaux en primeur campaign. I look forward to enjoying this when its bottled.

2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay
Where: Early evening in the gardens, bought from The Wine Society
Why: Outrageously good value and drinking so wonderfully now but I wager it will keep another 5 years with ease.

2003 Penfolds Yattarna
Where: Penfolds tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Rich and voluptuous with good intensity of flavours. Their '07 and '08 are also excellent but I feel they need a bit more time to unfurl; the '03 on the other hand is ready to go.


2005 Cote Rotie, Chateau d'Ampuis, Guigal
Where: Guigal tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Depth, power and concentration yet without losing balance and sense of focus. First growth quality and aging potential, this is a magnificent effort from Guigal.

2003 Chateau Bahans de Haut Brion
Where: Bistro du Vin Cambridge, enjoyed with a rare Chateaubriand.
Why: Very well knit together, bags of fruit and ripe tannins, doesnt at all reflect the extreme heat of the vintage. Seamless, and with the food, it just melded together. Bordeaux and steak, so simple, yet when you get right, there is nothing quite like it.

1994 Vega Sicilia Unico
Where: Vega Sicilia tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: I remember this being very voluptuous on the nose and on the palate, it yielded different flavours with every sip. Such beauty and complexity, truly a majestic wine - I dare say one of the best wines I have ever tasted. I had the privilege of tasting three vintages of Vega Sicilia  ('02, '96 and '94) any one of which could have made this list

1980 Opus One 
Where: 2012 Annual Dinner of the Cambridge University Blind Wine Tasting Society
Why: A rare treat, I'm told this bottle of the second vintage of Opus One came straight from their cellars in Napa. Cant be too many of this knocking around anymore.

1971 Chateau Cos d'Estournel
Where: Formal Hall, bottle purchased at auction
Why: Incredible freshness and life, theres still quite a bit of fruit in this. Must admit I didnt expect much, but this bottle definitely over delivered.

1989 Hermitage 'La Chapelle', Jaboulet
Where: Formal Hall, kindly given a small tasting sample bya  friend
Why: Powerful yet seductive, classic mature Hermitage, such a shame I was only given a tasting sample.

2010 Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional
Where: Quinta do Mouro tasting for Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Quite possibly the best single varietal, non-fortified Touriga Nacional I've ever tasted - great perfume on the nose, plenty of stuffing on the palate. No doubt it'll age for decades.

2003 Penfolds Grange (in magnums)
Where: Christmas Dinner with Penfolds, Cambridge University Wine Society
Why: Sometimes you wonder why these 'iconic' wines get so much hype, I think this Grange justifies all the hype it gets.

Sweets / Fortifieds

1963 Avery's Special Reserve Vintage Port
Where: After Formal Hall, this bottle was purchased at auction
Why: Freshness for its age, still very good sweet fruit on the core, along with finesse and elegance - everything a mature vintage port ought to be. Very classy.

1963 Fonseca Vintage Port
Where: Vintage Port Tasting, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Why: Somewhat of an iconic wine, I was expecting a life changing experience which didnt quite materialise, but its still a very good mature vintage port, though I wouldnt recommend keeping it much longer.

1976 Terrantez, Blandy's
Where: Madeira Wine Institute tasting, Berkeley Hotel, London
Why: Someone described it as 'bottled electricity' which I think is an apt description for this high voltage, high octane of a madeira - would probably wake the dead.

NV Gonzalez Byass Cuatro Palmas Amontillado Sherry
Where: 2012 London launch event of the Gonzalez Byass Palmas Sherries
Why: Vivacity, verve and poise; complex flavours that linger for minutes, such a magnificent sherry. Sadly very rare.

1984 Moulin Touchais,Coteaux du Layon
Where: Bistro du Vin, Cambridge, enjoyed with crepe suzette; this bottle is ex cellars via their UK importer
Why: Compelling concentration of flavours, still so much acidity and vivacity about it; finish lingers on for a good long while. Liquid marmalade.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cambridge Wine Merchants

A selection of wines stocked by Cambridge Wine Merchants which I've tasted recently and am very happy to recommend. Prices are retail to their Cambridge shops - Kings Parade, Bridge Street, Mill Road and Cherry Hinton. Some of them will be excellent wines for Christmas too.


2010 Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Freestyle Blanc, IGP d'Oc
B+ | £12.99

White fruits, peaches and ripe grapefruit on the nose; fleshy on the palate, its not your run off the mill white wine. Has character and presence on the palate, good mouthfeel. Drinks nicely on its own, will complement food too.  

2011 Les Eminades 'Montmajou' Blanc, AOC Saint Chinian
B+ | £13.99

Initially peachy fruit again, quite forward, then after some time in the glass, some hints of fennel and even sweet ginger developing, rather interesting nose. Nice texture on the palate, mostly white fruits, medium acidity but with good minerality. Interesting stuff, a food wine.

2011 Domaine Pellehaut Blanc, IGP Cotes de Gascogne
B+ | £6.99

Mostly citrus nose, with some white fruits too; flavours are simple but clean, good fruit and plush acidity. Very easy to drink, a perennial good value favourite from Cambridge Wine.

2011 Lagar de Bouza Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain
B+ | £11.99

Lemon peel and citrus oils coming through, lots of high notes, very bright. High acidity but still balanced, very refreshing lemony flavours coming through; bottled sunshine thats crying out for oysters and seafood. Perfect to wake you up on Boxing day. 


2011 Domaine Combe Blanche l'Incompris Cinsault, IGP Cotes de Brian
B+ | £7.99

Dark fruit nose with hints of sweet spices and truffles, theres inviting warmth there. Fruit on the palate is bright, dark cherry but isnt at all heavy; lovely flavours, easy to drink. Label's a bit naff but you wont miss it on the shelves. Would pair well with cold leftover ham / turkey on Boxing Day.

2010 Domaine Danjou-Banessy Roboul, Cotes de Roussillon Villages
B+ | £17.99

Dark fruit, with prunes and dark plums; also mulled spices, theres more fragrance coming through on the nose. Nice concentration of fruit, isnt quite as brooding as the Chandeliere, but still has good length on the palate.

2009 Domaine Combe Blanche La Chandeliere, Minervois la Laviniere
B+(+) | £14.99

Dark fruit complete with sweet licorice notes, some cooked dark plums too, quite brooding. All components are balanced and expressive: good fruit density on the palate, theres concentration of flavour, good acidity and ripe tannins; needs food and preferably an hour or so in a decanter. Would be superb with roast beef or even guinea fowl. The 2004 vintage is still in stock and has developed nicely, more leather, truffle and undergrowth notes there, fruit wont be as intense though. 

2011 Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc, IGP d'Oc
A- | £15.99

Plums and red cherries, with a hint of leafy / stalky notes thats characteristic of Cab Franc, some woody notes too. Lovely plump red fruit on the palate, quite fresh and rounded with a hint of greenness; not heavy. Very charming and playful, not to mention unusual, would rival many a good Cab Franc from the Loire. Another one for leftover cold turkey / ham. 

2006 Simonelli-Santi 'Malintoppo', DOC Orcia, Tuscany
A- | £13.99

Dark fruit with sweet licorice and woody aromas (tobacco and cigarbox), some polished oak use here, lots of floral elements are showing too - violets and roses; the aromatics are really appealing. Lots of fruit on the palate but isnt over done, nice balancing acidity, ripe and yielding tannins; its aged well, feels elegant and sophisticated, very well put together. Its bigger brother 'Antonio' (pretty much the same label but in red, £16.99) packs slightly more oomph and is worth a punt too.

2009 Clos de los Siete, Mendoza, Argentina
A- | £13.99

Blackberry and blackcurrant compote, quite sweet and jammy, with some vanilla and floral fragrance; does smell sweet. This Malbec based blend is packed with dark fruit, sweet and plush with enough acidity to keep it from feeling too heavy; ripe tannins on the finish. I like the presence on the palate, powerful yet velvety, seriously good wine.

2009 Chateau Pey La Tour Reserve, Bordeaux Superieur
A- | £12.50

Classic but modern claret - cassis, blackberry, some sweet spice / licorice and cedar notes. On the palate, bags of dark fruit, fully extracted; very ripe and plush, the mid palate is filled in; the fruit really is to the fore; still somewhat chunky but ripe tannins A couple of hours in the decanter with food, or cellar for a good few years. A classic roast beef wine.


2007 Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal, Portugal
A- | £9.99

A fortified Moscatel from Portugal. Smells of raisins and sultana, also caramel and golden syrup, unabashedly sweet. Luscious on the palate; raisins, molasses, marmalade and a hint of cinnamon spice there; though it is quite luscious and thick, it never feels cloying. Sweet and big enough to pair with mince pies and christmas pudding. Has a stopper cork, so you dont have to finish it in one sitting (though its so delicious, I really dont see why not), just pop the cork back in and leave in the fridge, will last for months.

2001 Warre's Bottle Aged LBV Port, Portugal
A-(+) | £22.99

A leap up from your basic LBV port, this offering from Warre's is bottled unfiltered, so decanting would be advisable. Cassis, jammy dark fruit, with hints of dark chocolate and coffee and warming spice; sweet fruit on the palate, with good sustained flavours, doesnt just hit and run like most LBV ports. Rich and filling mouthfeel, not far off Vintage port in quality.

Henriques & Henriques 15 year old Bual, Madeira
A | £25 (50cl)

Candied orange peel, marmalade, spicy fruit chutney; oxidised nose to this. On the palate, despite the age, theres still so much life, acidity and verve; like drinking spiced clementine juice; high acidity with good dose of sugar; dried oranges and marmalade again, nutty and spicy too; feels luscious but nimble. Flavours persists on the palate for minutes; makes you yearn for more. Really delicious.
Alternatives: the 10 year old Bual is a cheaper at £18.99 for 50cl; the 5 year old Medium Rich is cheaper still at £11.50 for 50cl, neither will have the length and presence but should give a good idea what Bual Madeira is all about. Then again its Christmas, go on, indulge ...  


Thursday, 6 December 2012

CUWS M12 - Opus One

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A tasting of Opus One wines for the Cambridge University Wine Society, led by David Pearson, CEO of Opus One. I had the good fortune of being seated opposite David Pearson at this tasting, and I must say he was both generous and thoughtful in all his answers to my questions; we only tasted five wines on the night, which left plenty of time for discussions. I'll try to summarise what I have learnt about Opus One in a few paragraphs below (feel free to jump straight to the tasting notes...).

Started in 1979 (first vintage) as a joint venture between Robert Mondavi (of Napa fame) and Baron Phillippe de Rothschild (of Ch Mouton Rothschild fame), Opus One was conceived with the aim of creating the best red wine that reflected California. To this day, Opus One only makes one wine, a blend of the classical Bordeaux varietals dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (80-90%), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. They also produce a small amount of second wine called 'Overture' which is only available for purchase at their cellar door or through their website. Out of the annual production of approximately 20,000 cases, half of Opus One production is exported - unusually high for premium US wines.

In terms of of winemaking, Opus One has been gradually shifting away from the know-how initially gained from both Ch Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. David Pearson likens this to a child growing up, whilst appreciating and undoubtedly learning from and listening to the advice from both parents, is nevertheless forging its own character and its own way of doing things. An example he cited was in water management in the vineyard. Typical US wineries would irrigate often but in small volumes (basically drip irrigation), keeping the vines relatively stress-free and resulting in roots which have no need to dig deep into the soil. Opus One irrigates less often but in larger volumes, ensuring that the water percolates through the soil and in effect makes the roots chase after the water (more akin to the huge showers you get in Bordeaux, followed by long periods of dryness). While this might stress the vines, it would force the roots to dig deeper into the soil and in turn yield much better grapes.

Given the Californian climate, Opus has no problems in achieving the sugar ripeness in the grapes, so the aim has been to get the phenolic ripeness right without letting the alcohol levels go unchecked. The wines are aged in 100% new French oak for approximately 18 months with several rackings. An interesting, though admittedly not unique, feature of Opus One is that their wines can seem rather closed and lean in its adolescence (between 5-10 years), so the insider's scoop would be to enjoy Opus rather young (pretty much on release, which I would personally advise against) or wait after its awkward adolescence (much more sensible).

Five wines were tasted on the night and they are presented here in the order they were tasted. The 1980 (as it were, ex-chateau) was tasted at a separate event.

1996 Opus One (en magnum)
A | drink now - 2020+

Green bell pepper, leafy / stalky notes was rather dominant (but it blew away with some time in the glass), mingling with some leather and tobacco, smoky / baked earth notes too. The fruit was sweet, dark and very ripe, with some hints of vanilla. On the palate, the fruit was distinctly sweet and ripe; blackberries and dark plums; very plush and generous; tannins were sweet and yielding, perfectly integrated into the wine; enough acidity to keep things going. Incredibly composed and well knit, a beautiful wine with much life ahead. To be perfectly honest, served blind, I would have guessed it as a high quality aged claret (perhaps St Julien or Pauillac) from a very ripe year.

2000 Opus One
A-(+) | drink now - 2020+

Sweet cassis on the nose; opulent and forward, jammy and cooked dark fruit compote, incredible port-like nose; framboise and cherry liquer too, with vanilla, some mint and hints of truffley undergrowth. Very interesting aromas indeed. Fruit on the palate is generous and large; a heady concoction of ripe dark fruits again; notable length and persistence on the palate; it doesnt feel overly extracted yet has good power; tannins are ripe and needs a bit more time to resolve. Perhaps lacks the finesse and precision of the '96, but still very good; more Californian blockbuster in style.

2004 Opus One
A-(+) | drink 2015 - 2025+

Dark fruit compote on the nose, with cassis and port / liquer like nose; theres a sweetness, even confected note here, wine gums and sweet licorice, with a hint of mint - almost makes me think this is an Australian. On the palate, lots of dark fruit, blackberry dominates; quite a lot of extraction, the tannins are ripe but still muscular and does grip on the finish; flavours do last, feels quite hefty and alcoholic on the palate. Low acidity, plenty of fruit, bold, forward fruity style - even more unmistakably new world.

2008 Opus One
A-(++) | drink 2018 - 2030+

Dark fruit, even more brooding than the previous ones, with some hints of floral notes of violets and roses. On the palate, everything is masked by the huge fruit; properly thick and extracted, this is a fruit bomb, quite explosive on entry; dark berries all the way, almost port-like spice on the finish. Whilst the fruit is very juicy, the tannins are also untempered; needs time to resolve. A big wine that could do with a few years.

2009 Opus One
A-(++) | drink 2017 - 2030+

Dark fruit, quite brooding; theres licorice and some woody aromas; the toasty fragrant oak still comes through on the nose, vanilla pods; also some undergrowth notes too. On the palate, blueberries and blackberries are the dominant characters; feels quite edgy on the palate, theres fruit and concentration but it really isnt fully expressing itself. Ripe and muscular tannins too with good length on the palate. Needs time to integrate.

1980 Opus One
A- | drink now

The second vintage ever of Opus One, this bottle came straight from their cellars. On the nose, some green varietal characters, leafy and bellpepper along with some stalky and woody notes, also hints of leather and undergrowth truffle notes. On the palate, the fruit is just about hanging on, boysenberry and blueberry, but its more faded than bright; decent acidity, tannins have faded away. Still drinking nicely, but I'd class it as 'faded glory'; such a rare treat though. Again, reminded me of an aged but very fine Pauillac / St Julien.