Wines can go from bargains to extravagances remarkably quickly. I put my head on the block and suggst some future cult wines. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.
Since the early 1990s the Pomerol known as Le Pin has fetched prices that rival those of Petrus, the most expensive red bordeaux there is. Even young wines produced on these two small patches of land in Pomerol can sell for more than £3,000 a bottle nowadays.
Yet in December 1984 I was persuaded, slightly against my will, to part with £150 for a dozen bottles of Le Pin 1983. In the early 1980s it was barely known. The first vintage, produced by Belgian Jacques Thienpont, who had renovated a mere hectare (2.5 acres) of well-drained gravel, was 1979. I remember sharing a taxi back from a tasting with wine merchant Simon Farr, then of Bibendum Wine. He clearly had quite a lot of Le Pin to sell and urged me to take a punt on this new name in the Bordeaux firmament. I did not regret it, but drank it all up far too quickly and insouciantly.
I was reminded of this recently when researching the representation of the classic Bolgheri Cabernet, Sassicaia, in the UK. I remembered being given a taste of this new Tuscan red in the late 1970s by Neil and Susannah Braithwaite in their Hampstead flat and writing an article about it in Wine & Spirit, the trade magazine I was editing then. The Braithwaites represented half of the small UK wine importer Hunt & Braithwaite so I asked Jeremy Hunt, who went on to found the wine importer Thorman Hunt, to tell me the story by email.
‘Neil Braithwaite was introduced to the estate by Piero Antinori [head of his family’s 635-year-old Florentine wine merchant business] in, I think, 1973’, he wrote. ‘At Hunt & Braithwaite we loved the wine so much we bought 200 dozen Sassicaia 1968 in late 1973 or early 1974. The wine was amazing, but could we sell the darn stuff? We even had Julian Brind [Master of Wine and head wine buyer for Waitrose then] and others to a picnic lunch to taste Sassicaia but it went out in dribs and drabs! I think Neil still has the odd bottle and it is stunning.
‘When I was bought out of Hunt & Braithwaite in September 1978 Neil and Susannah kept Sassicaia, which was becoming much more sought after. I am sorry they did not keep the agency and after a few years Hunt & Braithwaite ceased trading.’
This was another wine whose reputation and prices soared remarkably fast after a slow start. Today young vintages cost a few hundred pounds a bottle but Sassicaia 1985 is a legend. Far too few bottles remain undrunk but if you found one you would have to pay about £2,000 for it, much more in a restaurant.
I’d be the last person to equate wine quality with price – I’ve always thought many wines are ridiculously overpriced and a few, fortunately, are underpriced. But it’s tempting to wonder which wines currently being launched on the market may develop massive reputations, and even become cult wines.
I would like to nominate the Andalusian wines of Muchada-Léclapart for starters – appropriately enough because their wines, effectively unfortified white wines from a single superior sherry vineyard, make the most exceptional aperitifs, while also being a suitable alcoholic strength (just 12.5% alcohol) to be drunk with food.
This is a joint venture between Alejandro Muchada and extreme biodynamic enthusiast David Léclapart, in whose cellars in Trépail, Champagne, Muchada did an internship while backpacking through France in 2011. Five years later, presumably enthused by the many similarities there are between sherry and champagne (white wines grown on chalk needing something more than fermentation – adding respectively alcohol and sugar – to turn them into a highly distinctive aperitif), they decided to embark together on a ground-breaking project in the far south of Spain.
They have a grand total of 3 ha (7.5 acres) of some of the finer vineyards of mainly old Palomino Fino vines on the famous albariza chalk of sherry town Sanlucar de Barrameda, farmed biodynamically (as witness our image above), with the resulting wines unfiltered so potentially a little cloudy. But these very precise terroir expressions seem to last awfully well in the fridge.
This is far from the only unfortified wine project in the greater sherry region. Others embarking on a similar course include Ramiro Ibañez, whose brand of Vino de la Tierra Cadiz is Cota 45, Luis Peréz and, most importantly, the Dane Peter Sisseck, who made Pingus in Ribera del Duero one of Spain’s most revered wines. He was planning to launch his Viña Corrales from vines in the Pago Balbainas 2020 Fino (the year that it was bottled) in April when the flor is at its thickest but the coronavirus has delayed this until later in the year.
Another yet-to-be discovered wine style comes from less than 500 km north-east of the sherry capital Jerez. The arid plains of La Mancha have until recently been associated with massive yields of insipid white wine destined for distillation or bulk shipment to countries such as France and Germany.
But there are magnificent old vines here – again chiefly, though not exclusively, for white wine, and generally Albillo but also some really exceptional Aíren, the traditional and often-scorned La Mancha grape. Grown carefully and vinified as though for a top white burgundy, ambitious local producers such as Jesus María Recuero, Más Que Vinos, Verum and, especially, Vinos de Garaje (Garage Wines) are making fascinating, fine wines.
South Africa is another source of wines whose producers’ reputations are surely set to grow internationally. Sadie Family and Mullineux Wines are probably the new-wave producers best-known outside South Africa, and I have mentioned many others on this site before. But, selfishly, I’m particularly glad to see London wine merchant Justerini & Brooks have already signed up David & Nadia (whose surname is also Sadie, hence the use of this couple’s first names) and the talented Lukas van Loggerenberg of Van Loggerenberg Wines.
The warming climate is changing which places are able to make seriously fine wine. I was sent the current releases from Clément et Florian Berthier in the Upper Loire recently. They included a range of wines from the famous appellation Sancerre as well as other, terroir-specific, bottlings from the very much less famous Coteaux du Giennois to the north of Sancerre (seen on the far right of this World Atlas of Wine overview map of the Loire Valley). For many years grapes in the Coteaux du Giennois struggled to ripen and the wines have had appellation contrôlée status only since 1998, but if these Berthier wines are anything to go by, in a warming climate, the humble Coteaux du Giennois is better placed to produce well-balanced, refreshing wines than famous Sancerre to the south, whose Sauvignon Blancs may be in danger of being a bit too ripe to refresh.
This reflects what’s happening in Burgundy, where previously too-cool regions such as the Hautes-Côtes are coming into their own. And one wine I tasted recently brought home the effects of climate change dramatically. It was a delicious dry white, from Johanniter grapes vinified by Kojder in … Poland.
Up-and-coming wine stars
Muchada-Léclapart, Lumière 2018 Vino de España
£39 GB Wine Shippers (stock on the way), £50.83 Winebuyers.com
Muchada-Léclapart, Univers 2017 Vino de España (younger vines)
£24 GB Wine Shippers (stock on the way), £25 Woodwinters, $35.99 Henry’s Wine & Spirit of Brooklyn
Verum, Las Tinadas Airén 2018 Vino de la Tierra Castilla
From €9.75 from a range of Spanish retailers and one Belgian retailer
David & Nadia, Swartland – pretty much any wine, red or white
£110–£240 for six bottles in bond Justerini & Brooks
$19.99–$77.99 a bottle from a wide range of US retailers
Van Loggerenberg, Graft Syrah 2018 Polkadraai Hills
£30.35 Noble Grape of Wales, £35 Philglas & Swiggot, Handford, £150 for six bottles in bond Justerini & Brooks
Van Loggerenberg, Kameraderie Chenin Blanc 2018 Paarl
£32 VinoSA of Cornwall, £35–£36 Handford, The Wine Reserve, Vincognito
Clément et Florian Berthier, Terre de Silex 2018 Coteaux du Giennnois
€15.90 Weinbaer of Germany, €18.75 Les Grappes of France