James Mayor asks nine well-known wine producers for their seasonal wish lists.
Ah Christmas … we’re looking forward to seeing everybody, of course. Still, there’s the sensitive matter of gifts, and if we’re hosting a meal or two, the challenge of what makes the table. Who better to inspire us than the wine producers?
I went to the source, and vox-popped nine of them in nine countries across the globe, with two questions.
Q1: You gift an exceptional bottle of wine to a special wine-loving friend, what will you choose?
Q2: A friend gives you a bottle as a gift. What do you hope it will be?
Common themes emerge in the winemakers’ revealing responses as they make their special recommendations: freedom, comfort zone, passion, sustainability, love, surprise, COVID-19, happiness, climate change, closed markets, friendship, hope…
Here’s what the winemakers told me.
Sara Pérez, Mas Martinet, Priorat, Spain
1: I would offer a bottle of Els Escurçons. It is probably the antithesis of what people expect from a Priorat wine, but giving the opportunity to break limiting beliefs is to give freedom.
2: If he/she is a friend, they will know about my passion for wines outside my comfort zone – distant, strange, different, artisan, wrong, erroneous, oxidative … but passionate, with brilliant spirit, tradition and love.
Michael Hill Smith MW, Shaw + Smith, Adelaide Hills, Australia
1: In terms of sheer quality, value and consistency my usual choice would be 2020 Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay. But the wine that is front of mind at the moment is 2020 Tolpuddle Chardonnay from our single-vineyard site in Tasmania. This wine is extraordinary and has just won five trophies at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. It has amazing mid-palate intensity, length and a great future.
2: Burgundy, burgundy and burgundy! I’m more than happy with any good vintage from Domaines Dujac or Rousseau or, rather predictably perhaps, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Drinking a great bottle with an old friend is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If I had to choose one bottle, it would be 1978 DRC La Tâche – just about as close to heaven as you get on earth.
Andrea Mullineux, Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, South Africa
Last week we were all thrown into a spin after South Africa got red-listed and flights in/out of the country were cancelled. Despite this, I remain upbeat about the wine industry as this is probably the most exciting, hyper-creative time ever to be making wine in South Africa.
1: It is the holiday season, with half of us in the heat and half of us in the cold. Our Mullineux Swartland Syrah, grown in a warm, dry climate, but built for a holiday roast, will tick all of your sensorial boxes. It’s fresh and fragrant (the right grape planted in the right terroir), but just loves any roasted dish, from fish to lamb. A post-bottle, heightened sense of affection is guaranteed.
2: One of the most famous South African wines just sold at auction for a record price: a bottle of 1821 Grand Constance, a wine with a great history, and who doesn’t want to taste a bit of history? They say about winemakers, we are ‘paid like paupers but live like kings’, so a gifted bottle of this, or even a sip, would be magic.
Klaus Peter Keller, Weingut Keller, Rheinhessen, Germany
1: I would love to recommend a Riesling von der Fels from our winery. It’s a selection from the up to 35-year-old vines of our Kirchspiel, Hubacker, Abtserde and Morstein grand cru vineyards. Some call it our ‘baby GG’. It’s a beautiful, mineral wine with a lot of energy and precision from its limestone rock soil (von der fels in German means ‘from the rocks’). This is a perfect example of our best grands crus at an excellent price (Michael Schmidt recently published a great von der Fels report on JancisRobinson.com). This is a wine which makes people happy, and a bit more happiness is exactly what we need right now. It goes very well with white meat, pork or fish dishes.
2: In the winter I would be very, very glad to be given a nice bottle of port or madeira to accompany my wife Julia’s brilliant tarte Tatin or some blue cheese. With old port or madeira you can relax and think of all the wonderful things which happened last year and which will hopefully happen next year too. These wines are time machines that with a single sip transport you back to the 1970s, 1960s, 1950s or even further. It’s like liquid history in your glass!
I remember ploughing the 80% steep Schubertslay vineyard in Piesport on an incredibly warm day in May. Dirk’s son Marco Niepoort welcomed us for lunch with a bottle of slightly chilled ruby port. For Christmas we’ll drink a 1977 vintage port from our cellar – these are a joy to drink now.
Diana Snowden Seysses, Snowden Vineyards (Napa, US), Domaine Dujac (Burgundy, France)
Diana is pictured at the top of this article with her brother-in-law Alec Seysses and husband Jeremy Seysses.
1: While I’m fortunate to comfortably bask in the reflected glory of grand cru vineyards in Burgundy and prime Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Napa, I’m especially proud of our St-Auguste from Domaine de Triennes in Provence. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot from chalky slopes in south-eastern France, with a view of the St-Baume mountains, a feminist pilgrimage site. The wine is classy, long and savoury, and gains in beauty with age. In the glass it evokes the sweet summer air of southern France, black olives, lavender and thyme. The vines have been farmed organically since 2011, certified in 2014. Fermented with native yeast, this wine in a 420-g bottle [many congratulations on the lightweighting – JR] is truly made to the highest standards of ecological fine wine.
2: I’d be delighted to find Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon under the Christmas tree! The Santa Cruz Mountain range and Ridge specifically walks that fine line between classic and perennially exciting. The high altitude, just inland of the Pacific Ocean, and limestone soil give the Monte Bello vineyard Cabernet, source of the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a distinct European echo. Make no mistake however, Ridge is obstinately American! The deft use of American oak, combined with organic farming, native-yeast fermentation and submerged-cap extraction shows a thoughtful blend of the best of old and new.
Andrew Hedley, ex-Framingham, New Zealand
I am about to dip a toe into the water in New Zealand with some wines with irreverent labelling that I hope will come on the scene early next year. I also have a project going into Australia called Makipai with an old buddy, James Johnston at World Wine Estates. The Oz market is only just opening up again. I was hoping to find some two-metre-tall bottles to try and get round social distancing restrictions for wait staff, but to no avail. Maybe there’s a gap in the market there.
1: I’m back on the Riesling horse! So, if I have to choose a bottle, it’s going to be Makipai Marlborough Dry Riesling 2021 which should be ready early in the coming New Year. My body is composed of about 85% Riesling at any one given moment, so I’d really be giving them a little bit of myself…
2: It would have to be something that evokes what COVID-19 has taken from us for now, the ability to visit friends and/or special places. Since my family in the UK are not making any wine yet (we’re still waiting for climate change to reinvigorate the glory days of grape growing along Hadrian’s Wall), I’m going to plump for a wine from the Finger Lakes in upstate New York where Kelby Russell and his partner Julia are doing great things at Red Newt Cellars and Hosmer respectively. So, Kelby’s Red Newt Riesling! [I have a case of the delicious 2015 Red Newt Dry Riesling in my cellar – JR.]
Katia Nussbaum, San Polino, Montalcino, Italy
1: I would give our San Polino Brunello di Montalcino Helichrysum 2016. It’s one of the classiest, most beautiful wines we ever made, drinkable now, drinkable 15 years from now. This wine reflects its terroir, with rocky minerality, salinity from the ancient sea bed, light quartz crystals and feldspar from the once-upon-a-time Monte Amiata volcano, spicy aromas of balsamic, native herbs and the vitality of its organic compounds.
2: Something new to me that’s delicious, exciting and made sustainably, in small quantities, by hand, reflecting the winemaker’s/estate’s character. This wine could be from Mongolia, Australia or even Dorset … it would tell me about the ecology of its terroir and the people who made it, a story of ingenuity and hope.
Jorge Serôdio Borges, Wine & Soul, Douro, Portugal
1: Pintas Douro Red was the wine we wanted to make ever since we created Wine & Soul. It is a complex Douro wine from a superb 91-year-old vineyard, with a twist of modernity. In 2015 we had great grapes, a perfect vintage with long ageing capacity which now, six years later, is beginning to show beautiful harmony, so it’s time to open and share the first bottles.
2: Our dream of producing Pintas began in 2000, when we tasted a wine we’ll never forget. This was a Ch Latour 1996, served blind, perfectly balanced and very complex. We were so inspired we decided to make a wine that would reflect Douro with a pure expression of terroir and identity, and in 2001 we made our first Pintas! I would love to taste that Latour again to see if we were right! On that day, all those years ago, it was perfect.
Nigel Greening, Felton Road, New Zealand but currently stranded in the UK
1: The wine I would give? Easy, our Vin Gris! Vin Gris is a by-product from making still Pinot Noir, a way to concentrate a fermenter of fruit from young vines or large berries. Free-run juice is bled from the fermenter and the resulting wine should be almost, but not totally, pure white in colour (hence the ‘gris’). It is texturally rich, gently perfumed with red fruit, with a palate of wild strawberries and cream. But with older vines and more measured viticulture, it has now become a rare beast. We made a few hundred litres in 2021: the first for five years. I miss it terribly, as do our regular customers!
2: I’d hope to receive a wine I’ve never tasted before. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Time to pop out to the wine shop?