We had our special tasting evening at the Financial Times last week to celebrate the launch of the third edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine and great fun it was too, with at least two separate visitors from Ireland, one each from Germany and the US and one based in Shanghai. It was made considerably easier by Sensible Wine Services, an outfit based in Kent which specialises in organising professional and semi-professional wine tastings.
I selected the following nine wines because although I think are so good they could become classics of the future, they did not exist in 1999 when the last edition of the Companion came out. At the end we had a vote on which wine was everyone’s favourite and the results (see below) were most surprising.
Kreglinger Vintage Brut 1999 Tasmania
I had been very impressed by the freshness of this fruit and the subtlety of the wine which has amassed considerable complexity during its many years ageing on the lees. Obviously this wine did exist in 1999 but the winery would have been called Pipers Brook then and was run by Andrew Pirie. Since then the company has been bought by a Flemish trading company whose owners, incidentally, are related to the Thienponts of Vieux Château Certan and Le Pin in Pomerol. Pirie, who made the base wines for this bottling up to the 2002 vintage, now runs their big rivals Tamar Ridge and my main reason for showing it was to illustrate my conviction that Tasmania has a very bright future as a producer of really fine base wines for fizz, being so much cooler than almost anywhere else in Australia. Now sold out, it was about £20 in the UK. This was a previous wine of the week.
Le Soula Blanc 2003 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon
This minerally, full-bodied but piercing dry white blend of Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne and Chenin Blanc has been one of my favourite French whites since its first vintage 2001 (wine of the week long ago). It’s a joint venture between UK importer Richards Walford, biodynamic convert Gérard Gauby and local grower Eric Laguerre. Since then however the upper Agly valley inland from Perpignan has been invaded by a host of other outside investors. Chapoutier of the Rhône, Thunevin of St-Emilion, Tom Lubbe of South Africa and at least two Masters of Wine have bought vineyards here and are making increasingly exciting reds and whites from the area’s small, intensely flavoured grapes. From a magnum and a heatwave vintage, the 2003 now seems ready to drink and, with its similar structure, should impress any lover of fine white burgundy. £20.95 from www.indigowine.com and on many top restaurants’ wine lists in France.
Keller, Hubacker Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2005 Rheinhessen, Germany
A Polish woman who attended this tasting rushed up to me afterwards and said “You’re right, that wine did convert me to Riesling!” Music to the ears of this Riesling fan. This is German Riesling in its new guise – fully ripe but dry, with so much flavour that just one sniff is enough to draw you into the glass for greater acquaintance with its pungently exotic cocktail of mango and lime. This is delicious already but, hand-reared on a site in the unfashionable south western corner of Rheinhessen that was apparently last celebrated for wine in the Middle Ages, it should age magnificently. £25.50 Howard Ripley. See a long post about this wine in your turn archive.
Waitaki Valley Estates, Braids Pinot Noir 2004 Waitaki, New Zealand
This is the first vintage ever from experimental plantings in the new, cool, limestone wine region just north of Central Otago in the south of the South Island. It was made by the talented Michelle Richardson, once Villa Maria’s brightest star, and is a pretty good debut even if relatively light and with just a hint of beetroot flavour. It is fresh and has no hint of syrupiness. It is not strictly in commercial distribution but will be on the list of Kiwi chef Peter Gordon’s London restaurant The Providores at around £50 a bottle.
Tokara Red 2003, Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is the first release carrying the name of the most lovingly funded new winery in South Africa, the property of banker G T Ferreira complete with restaurant, olive frantoia, infra red heat-seaking technology to work out which grapes to pick first and so on and so on. So wary of risking his reputation was Ferreira that the first three vintages were released under the name Zondernaam (or ‘nameless’). The 2002 Zondernaam was already delicious but this is a very vivacious blend of 73 per cent Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, and for the first time reminded our tasters that wine was designed for food. (The bread and cheese was not to emerge until after the tasting.) £23 from Hic Wines of Castleford. See Tokara wines released at last.
Passopisciaro 2004 IGT Sicilia, Italy
The maker of this wine has also featured on these pages, eccentric ex hippie Andrea Franchetti who has built Tenuta di Trinoro of southern Tuscany into a cult Bordeaux blend depending heavily on Cabernet Franc even though the powerful American critic Robert Parker favoured his Merlot. This wine, first vintage 2002, is made from ancient stumps of Nerello Mascalese vines growing on the lava-strewn slopes of Mount Etna at up tp 1,000 m altitude. It was the palest red of the lot, tastes very sweet but then is saved by a great revitalising cut of tannin on the finish. Very exotic, this wine oozes spicy flavours not encountered in the usual roster of international grape varieties. Although the latitude is the same as North Africa, nights are cool even in August, and the area is currently attracting considerable interest from outside investors. From 24 euros in Italy, occasionally imported by Corney & Barrow. The 2001 was a previous wine of the week.
Wine & Soul, Pintas 2004 Douro, Portugal
This to my mind is the most sophisticated of the exciting new army of table wines from port country. Sandra Tavares and her husband have somehow managed to inject polish into this blend of 30 different local grape varieties with an average age of three-quarters of a century. Total production is only just over 400 cases so it is never going to be cheap. The red and white she makes at her family’s property in the hardly glorious Alenquer region Quinta da Chocapalha are also notable, and considerably cheaper. Another wine that has been imported by Corney & Barrow; currently from 37 euros in Germany. See Some exciting newcomers from the Douro.
Colomé 2004 Valle Calchaqui, Argentina
This first vintage from the highest vineyard in the world, grown on an extraordinarily primitive estate at more than 3,000 m almost on the Boivian border was the cheapest wine of the tasting at £12.99 from UK chain Oddbins. I pointed out it was underpriced when I made it wine of the week on my website last April. But Donald Hess, who has used his Swiss mineral water fortune to establish the Hess Collection in the Napa Valley, to acquire Glen Carlou in South Africa and wrest the estimable Peter Lehmann from Allied Lyons is perhaps not driven by the profit motive. This velvety yet super-fresh wine, unpolluted mountain viticulture in a bottle, was voted general favourite by quite a margin when we voted twice, both before and after food. Just £12.79 chez Oddbins and a wine of the week last April.
Casa Castillo, Pie Franco 2004 Jumilla, Spain
Julia Roch, the company responsible for this, was formed only in the 1990s and Pie Franco emerged on export markets anyway only recently, although it was made, admittedly, several years before 1999. For years the sandy, phylloxera-free vineyards of Jumilla churned out nothing but blending wine largely via co-ops, but this little enclave of 40 year old ungrafted vines shows that this was a waste. Support for this wine virtually doubled after cheese was nibbled. From 22 euros in Spain. The 2003 was one of the wines in my New Spain tasting.
The second favourite wine, in both votes, was the Keller dry Riesling, much to my delight, whereas Soula Blanc, which was voted third favourite initially, lost support post-cheese to Tokara which crept into third place once people had experienced just how much the Bordeaux red grape varieties, and wine tasters, need food.
A shorter version of this article is published in the FT.
The votes, pre and post food
Aperitif - Kreglinger Vintage Brut 1999 Tasmania 2 1
Le Soula Blanc 2003 Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Roussillon 12 3
Keller, Hubacker Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2005 Rheinhessen 15 11
Waitaki Valley Estates, Braids Pinot Noir 2004 Waitaki, NZ 1 3
Tokara Red 2003, Stellenbosch 5 9
Tenuta di Trinoro, Passopisciaro 2004 IGT Sicilia, Italy 4 7
Wine & Soul, Pintas 2004 Douro, Portugal 7 11
Colomé 2004, Calchaqui Valley, Argentina 20 21
Casa Castillo, Pie Franco 2004 Jumilla, Spain 5 9