Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Discover Gavi trade masterclass

A rare, if not once in a lifetime, opportunity to attend a masterclass organized in London by The Drinks Business and entirely devoted to one of the most underappreciated varieties of Italy. Patrick Schmitt MW, just back from the region, led us through a tasting of 10 of the best Gavi wines, made exclusively with cortese grapes. This is the highlights of what I learned today.

Gavi vineyards lie in south-eastern Piedmont, near Liguria, which explains why even in a landlocked region there is some influence of the sea climate, which is reflected in viticulture by adding a touch of freshness and delicate taste that is often associated to coastal vineyards. All of this land is cultivated with cortese vines, which constitutes some 60% of all the cortese planted in Italy.

Some dates and numbers: the first indication of viticulture in the region dates back to the year 972 AD. Some 500 families work on Gavi wines in 190 companies which are part of the Consorzio (cooperative) founded in 1993. 1600 hectares of cortese planted and produce about 13 million bottles and 65 million euros of revenue, 85% of which comes from exports. The UK is its first export market. DOC certification dates back to 1974 and DOCG to 1998.

I left the tasting amazed at how Gavi wines, which I always considered easy and light bottles to be drunk young, can deliver excellent quality, complexity and especially aging potential. Buy some and put them away before too many people discover them and prices rise!

Prices are indicative merchant prices in the UK.

La Meirana
Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2022 
Round, long and moderately complex, 100% steel.
£15, score 90

Ghio Roberto Vigneti Piemontemare
Vigna Pian Lazzarino, Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2022
Smooth, evolved.
£10, score 91

La Smilla
Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2022
Oaked 5 to 10 months, 25yo vines.
£ 15, score 92

Massone Stefano
Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2022
Almost tropical fruit, peach, smooth end with gentle bitterness.
£ 15, score 92

Produttori del Gavi
Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2022
Steel. Citrussy, very fresh, slight pleasant bitterness at the end.
£ 15, score 88

Tenuta San Lorenzo
Gavi, 2022
No oak, good balance and length.
£ 15, score 88

Alborina Gavi del Comune di Tassarolo, 2021
Good balance and intensity, long and complex.
£ 15, score 93

Vigna Madonnina, Gavi Riserva, 2020
Balanced and complex.
£ 25, score 93

Gavi del Comune di Gavi, 2018
Slightly honeyed, recalls Chablis style. Evolved, ready now.
£ 25, score 93

Il Mandorlo, Gavi del Comune di Tassarolo, 2016
Long, complex and balanced with toasted notes. Ready with some aging potential The best wine of the day.
£ 25, score 94

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Wines of the Loire Valley

Another informative trade tasting on the Loire valley organized in London by Charles Sydney Wines, a specialist on this region who is based in London.

Here are my notes from my favorite wines of the day. 

Alphonse Mellot

Generation XIX, Sancerre blanc 2020
The name indicates that this is a product of the 19th generation of wine producers in the Mellot family. Perfectly balanced oak-fermented sauvignon, mod long and complex. RRP £40. Score 93.

Edmond, Sancerre Blanc, 2020
A full bodied oak-fermented sauvignon,  very complex and long. A harmonious wine. RRP £45. Score 95.

Triple Zero (no sugar, no bottle fermentation, no dosage) pétillant naturel
Smooth and mod long, good value. RRP £13, Score 89

Remus Montlouis 2022
Blend of different plots, very smooth and long chenin blanc. RRP £15. Score 90

Clos Michel Montlouis 2022
Better balance than predecessor. RRP 16, Score 92

Clos de Husseau, 2022
Minerality emerges from this single plot wine. RRP 17, score 92

I also tasted several sweet wines, but to be honest I was not overly impressed, a bit too sweet and sticky. Here they are.

Château Pierre Bise Coteaux du Layon Rochefort 2022, RRP £11, Score 86

Château Pierre Bise Quarts des Chaue Grand Cru 2022, RRP £ 22.40, Score 85.

Domaine des Forges, Quart de Chaume Grand Cru 2021, RRP £19.70, Score 84

Monday, November 6, 2023

Wines of Moldova - Trade tasting of Purcari Chateau

Unique tasting of wines from southeastern Europe today in London. While Romanian and Bulgarian wines were included, I will focus on Moldovan wines here ad this was the first time I have had a chance to taste them.

Thank you to Wine Communication for organizing this event and to Caroline Gilby, a top expert of Eastern European wines, for guiding us through the tasting.

Specifically the samples provided were from the Chateau Purcari estate, an iconic winery that dates back to 1812. Originally it was created by French settlers who came in the wake of Napoleon's invasion, and following the many ups and downs of Moldovan history it ended up being nationalized when the country found itself as part of the Soviet Union and it socialist system. After the end of that era in 1989 Moldova once again became independent and in the early 2000s the estate was privatized. It is now a public company quoted on the Bucharest stock exchange with additional vineyards in Romania and Bulgaria.

Victor Bostan is its proud boss now, and Federico Giotto, a famous Italian winemaker, helps him improve the quality of the wines. In total Purcari plants 300ha of vines and has set up a state of the art winery with sustainable criteria such as solar panel to provide electricity.

Tasting notes

Cuvee Purcari Alba Brut
Feteasca alba 100%. Traditional method for a delicate and fresh bubbly. Score 86

Nocturne Viorica 2022
Viorica grape, combines aromatic nose to fresh palate. It is a resistant grape that requires little intervention in the vineyard. Score 88

Academia viorica, orange wine
Some pleasant bitter end as expected from an orange wine, good structure. Score 88
Pinot noir native 2021, Smooth mod structure , Score 85

Rara Neagra 2022 
Smooth, traditionally treated as a workhorse grape but good potential, still lacks complexity. Score 83

Academia rara neagra 2020
6 months in amphora, Smooth medium structure. Ready score 88

Separavi de Purcari 
Separavi grape. Fruity, fresh, alcohol, Score 84

Malori de Prut 
65% rara neagra 35% feteasca Neagra, Score 86 

Freedom blend
The name wants to celebrate the independence of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine from the USSR. 
65% Separavi 20% rara neagra, 15% bastardo. A mid-range wine with moderate complexity and structure. Score 85

Negru de Purcari limited edition 2019 
55% cab sauvignon 40% Separavi 5% rara neagra. Score 90 The best Moldovan wine today.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Wines of Greece - Trade tasting by the Greek Wine Federation

It is not often that one goes to church to taste dozens of wines, but this is what I had the privilege of doing today in London for a wonderful trade tasting today At St. John's entirely dedicated to the wines of Greece.

Kudos to Westbury Communications for the organisation and thank you to the Greek Wine Federation for their initiative.

Long gone is the time when Greece was associated with cheap retsina wines that would make collectors raise their eyebrows. In the last 30 years or so the qualitative progress has been incredible and today we were lucky to taste many world class wines that have put the country firmly on the map.

The map is actually a curious concept in Greece, as we learned how no one really knows how many hectares in the country are actually dedicated to vines. Lots of work for the cadastre remains to be done.

Generally Greece produces wines with a high sugar content, because of its latitude and consequent high temperatures. However careful harvesting and smart use of land at higher altitudes have moderated this feature and today many Greek wines sport a more reasonable ABV that is comparable with the best in the world.

That is also reflected in the prices of Greek wines. I learned that today grapes of quality can cost up to 4500 euro / metric ton, which means, roughly, that their resulting wine must be sold for some € 45 / bottle for the producer to make a profit.

Of special interest two masterclasses presented by James Goode, MW. Below is my pick of the best wines he introduced to us.

Masterclass 1: 11am – 12.30pm: “Mountains and islands: Mapping Greece’s viticultural landscape”

Douloufakis Winery, Aspros Lagos white 2022, PGI Crete, 100% Vidiano
Powerful, complex and round, very long.
Acacia wood ageing confers a unique smoothness. RRP £ 30. Score 92

Domaine Costa Lazaridi, Château Julia Assyrtiko 2022
A balanced wine, mod long and complex with a slight and pleasant bitter ending that gives it a special character. A powerful texture. RRP £ 20. Score 92

Atremis Karamolegos Winery, Pyritis 2020, Assyrtiko
120yo vines! A complex, long and perfectly balanced wine. RRP £ 48. Score 93

Santo Wines, Santorini Nykteri 2021, Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani
Balanced and complex, long. RRP £ 31. Score 93

Palivou Estate, Nemea 2020, Agyorgitiko
This grape is sometimes referred to as the "merlot of Greece".
Still very young, it needs time to round its edges. A structured, powerful wine. RRP £ ? Score 91

Domaine Skouras, Nemea Grande Cuvee 2019, Agyiorgitiko
Fresh start gives way to an overall balance, with a pleasing sour end. RRP £ 30. Score 92

Parparoussis Winery, TAOS 2018, Mavrodaphne
30yo vines, a complex wine wine with a perfect balance, long and elegant. RRP £ 37. Score 93

Masterclass 2: 3pm – 4.30pm: “Assyrtiko to Xinomavro: Exploring Greece’s indigenous varieties”

Greek Wine Cellars, Moderne Allegorie Assyrtiko 2022
Intense to the nose, complex and balanced interpretation of this iconic grape. RRP £ 30. Score 92

Domaine Hatzimichalis, Assyrtiko Alepotrypa vineyard 2022
Steel fermenting and ageing makes for a crisp wine, to be enjoyed now. RRP £ 16, Score 92

Gaia Wines, Agyorgitiko 2020
Full, round and complex from 40yo vines and 21months in now oak. RRP £42. Score 93

From the same producer I tasted the following wines in the walkaround

Gaia Wines, Thalassitis 2022, Assyrtiko from Santorini
Intense, fresh, even zesty and floral, exuberant in the glass. RRP £ 33. Score 93

Gaia Wines, Assyrtiko by Gaia 2022
Complex, long perfect, a harmonious wine. RRP £ 37. Score 95

Alpha estate, Ecosystem Xinomavro relerve "Barba Yannis" 2019
From ungrafted vines that are 90yo, no less, and planted at the remarkable altitude of 900 meters above sea level. Complex, round, long, a harmonious wine. RRP £32. Score 95, the best wine of the day.

From the same producer I tasted the following wines in the walkaround

Ecosystem Assyrtiko Single Block "Aghia Kiriaki" 2021
A strong, full wine with plenty of room to improve over time. RRP £ 28, Score 92

Single vineyard "Hedgehog" Rosé 2022
Xinomavro. RRP £25. Score 92

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Meet the producer: Balmoral Maravides, Valencia, Spain

Snow at 1000 meters (photo Balmoral)

A big challenge they put before themselves at Balmoral: produce pinot noir in southern Spain. A grape which is known to give its best at cool latitudes, as in Burgundy. The climate could not be more different, but At Balmoral Maravides they had an ace up their sleeve to cool the environment for pinot noir: altitude. So they planted 150 hectares of organic vineyards at 1000+ meters above sea level, to produce about 500k bottles per year, half sparkling and half still. This are the highest altitude vineyards for sparkling wine in Spain.

Their winemaker from Epernay Hervé Jestin makes sure some French imprint is left on the bubbles, though the final signature is uniquely Maravides. Their wines are organic certified.

I met Carlos Garcia Gomariz at an online fair organized by Onvinum and they graciously agreed to send some samples for review. Here below are my tasting notes. Thank you for allowing me to discover a new reality of southern Spain.

Rosé, pinot noir sparkling
My first impression was of a light, easy  wine to drink over the Summer, in the garden, with some starters. However after I left the bottle, half empty, in the fridge for two days, capped with a vacuvin valve, I found a more complex taste and a rounder finish. The best of the wines we tasted from this creative vineyard.
Score 88

Edoné chardonnay sparkling brut
An easy bottle of traditional method bubbles with medium body and a (slightly puzzling for a brut) touch of sweet at the end. Score 80

This chard is flowery, fruity even if it is missing some typical chardonnay complexity, body and buttery notes. An easy wine to drink cold in the Summer with some starters. Score 80

Syrah 2021
An easy syrah just in time for the coming Spring grill in the garden. Moderate structure and complexity. To be enjoyed now, do not wait. Score 82

Friday, March 24, 2023

Taste Uruguay: a unique walkaround in London

At the iconic 67 Pall Mall we had the opportunity to participate in a unique trade tasting dedicated to Uruguayan wines that was organized by Southamericanwineguide.

Uruguay wine is mostly associated with Tannat, a variety which has been planted there for centuries with great results. However the oenologic landscape has evolved and there is now a large range of options to choose from. Over 6500 hectares are planted with cabs, merlot, syrah, viognier, and albarino, among others.

Selected Tastings

Below are my favorites from the walkaround tasting that was available sadly for too short a time, 90 minutes, to fully appreciate what the participating producers had to offer.

Castel Pujol Folklore Naranja (Rivera) 2022
A smooth orange wine which tasted on the light side despite 13.4%. Score 84

Albarino "Sobre Lias" (on the lees) Maldonado 2022 
The lees confer fragrance and elegance. 12.5%. Score 86

Singular Pinot Noir Clon 777 2020 (Maldonado)
A balanced, complex and long wine. 14.5% Score 90

Austros 2015 (canelones)
Smooth yet structured wine. 15%. Score 90

Barbera 2020 (canelones)
A light barbera. 13% Score85

Estival 2022 (canelones)
Balanced and complex. 14% Score 90

Alcyone NV (canelones)
Tannat 100% sweet wine. 16% Score 92

As they put it, this is a "back to the future" project. Anfor is inspired by the ancient Georgian traditions, dating back as much as 8000 years by some estimates. The best Muscat Ottonel bunches are left for 7 days to develop carbonic maceration, after which they are foot stomped and moved to amphora where they are sealed for 4 months and left in the open during winter. 8.5% Score 89

Santiago Degasperi of Proyekto Nakkal

Friday, March 17, 2023

Meet the producer: Valquejigoso, Madrid, Spain

The Valquejigoso estate is located 45 km south of the capital of Madrid. We had a chance to meet the producer at the 2022 online fair brilliantly organized by Onvinum, a new Spanish platform to bring together producers, buyers and educators.

The Valquejigoso Domaine was bought by the Colomo family in February 1986. From 1992 the domain, previously known as a hunting cottage for the European aristocracy, was transformed into a winery. The first vines were planted in 1997. Very well-known French nurseries participate in the project like Renoux - based in Bordeaux - as well as other French teams who came to share their experience in the "fork" vine planting method, an ancient method which requires a painful manual work.

Blend of cab sauvignon, merlot, tempranillo, negral and syrah taken from 21 plots, no less!
It is the only wine we tasted of this producer. An intense nose with complexity and length. Also well balanced. I paired it by concordance with with a vegetarian pizza, both food and wine of medium structure. Drink now or wait a year or two.
Score 90