Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Port Grand Tasting in London, courtesy of Instituto dos Vinhos Douro e do Porto

An intense afternoon for the wine trade in London today. A few weeks after a Madeira day, trade reps and media were invited by Westbury Pr to a walk around tasting of magnificent port bottles. All in all 19 tables with hundreds of samples, from simpler ruby to rare over fifty-year-old gems.

The Douro wine region was created one fine morning, on 10th September 1756, when Portugal decided to put some systematic order in the production of its most widely known and appreciated alcoholic drink. This makes Douro the oldest demarcated and regulated wine region in the whole world. 

It consists of two parts: Douro for regular wines and Porto for the iconic fortified brother. Today we focused on the latter.

Just as a reminder of port categories, here is how one should read the labels, and below a selection of my personal picks from a  superb collection put together by Westbury Communications for the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto.

Over a hundred varieties are allowed, but only five (Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional) are the most commonly used. White port is made with  Malvasia Fina, Donzelinho, Gouveio, Codega and Rabigato.

Ruby: wine usually made in steel. "Vintage" is given only for special years when the IVDP recognizes a potential for long aging, usually 3 or 4 times in a decade. "Late bottled vintage" is a ruby port that has spent longer in the oak barrel, at least 4 years, usually longer than that, and it develops more complex and subtle flavors as a result. 

Tawny: especially chosen for aging in oak casks. Wine is slowly exposed to air in the barrels. When an indication of age appears (10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years) it means the wine has been produced blending products from different years to obtain a final result that in the opinion of the winemakers shows the characteristics for that age. It does not mean that all the wine is as old as indicated on the label.

Colheita: a Tawny wine that comes from a specific year's vintage. Aged in wood for at least 7 years and often 20 or more years.

Port sales worldwide have recently topped 80m bottles per year.

Here are the best bottles of today.

Dia and her Burmester treasures


Colheita Tawny 2003, score 89

20 Year Old Tawny, smooth, score 92

40 Year Old Tawny, great balance, caramel, score 93

1967 Colheita, a surprise not in the original catalog! Complex nose and palate of dried apricots, caramel, very long, score 96, the best bottle today ex aequo.

Allegedly the oldest port house still in existence, founded in 1638.

50 Year Old Tawny. Complexity, balance, length: a harmonious wine, score 96, the best bottle today ex aequo.

40 Year Old WHITE, nutty, fragrant, score 94

30 Year Old WHITE, as above, a bit less evolved, score 90

Colheita WHITE 2003 and 2005, smooth, sweet sensations prevail, score 86

Garrafeira Tawny 1987, a smoky wine, unique, one may love it or leave it! Aged in demijohns which produces a smoky result. Nieport is the only house to use this process today. score 95 

Royal Oporto 40 Year Old Tawny, score 92 RRP GPB 120

Royal Oporto Colheita Tawny 1977, score 93 RRP GBP 140

Royal Oporto Colheita Tawny 1980, score 89

Mary Wright pouring 50yo liquid gold

Sandeman & Ferreira

Ferreira Dona Antonia 10 Year Old WHITE, score 86

Ferreira Dona Antonia 20 Year Old Tawny, score 88

Ferreira Dona Antonia 30 Year Old Tawny, score 92 RRP GBP 99

Sandeman 40 Year Old Tawny, score 90 RRP GBP 156, dry for its age.

Sandeman 50 Year Old Tawny, score 96, RRP GBP 330, a harmonious wine, the best bottle today ex aequo.

I could not have asked for a better bottle to end today's tasting.

Wine Regions of Porto and DOuro (image by I.V.D.P.)

subregions of Porto and Douro

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Brunello 2018 and Riserva 2017 "en primeur" in London

Exceptional tasting today of Brunello di Montalcino en primeur: 2018 vintage and 2017 "riserva" (aged one extra year). Kudos to the organizers Hunt and Speller, a sure bet when talking Italian wine in London. Unusually, instead of the traditional walkaround, we were assigned individual tables and a team of helpful waiters and waitresses poured the wines we requested in batches of six. A much more pleasant and efficient organization. Presumably the first event of such kind in the UK!

A few facts from the useful catalogue provided: Montalcino only sports 2000 ha of production for Brunello and 500 ha for its little brother Rosso di Montalcino and this total surface area has not increased for some time. What has increased is the world's knowledge and appreciation for Brunello's 10 million bottles or so that hit the market every year! These are lovingly cultivated by some 260 producers.

Some dates to remember: DOC received in 1966, Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino created in 1967, DOCG received in 1980.

Not that anyone needs reminding, but Brunello can only be made with 100% sangiovese, the iconic Tuscan variety. Maximum yield is 52 hl/ha. Minimum 24 months aging in oak casks, minimum 4 months aging in bottle (6 for riserva) and release not earlier than 1st january of the 5th year after harvest (6th for riserva).

One reason Brunello is so popular, despite rising prices, is probably that it is a versatile wine: its velvety elegance can be paired with a wide range of food: obviously red meat but also many pasta sauces and lots of roasted or baked dishes, including fish.

Below a few tasting notes for the best of the best today. It was a hard choice as all Brunellos are good wines, most are excellent and quite a few are exceptional. But here is my list of stars which I scored 90 and above, best on top.

Let's get started!

Pian delle Querci, 2017 riserva, 97

Tenuta Conte Pavoni - Loacker Wine Estates, 2017 riserva Molino al Vento, 40yo vines,biodynamic, 97

Fattoria dei Barbi, 2017 riserva, some vines 45+yo, 96

Casa Raia, 2018, 47-year-old vines, organic, 96

Patrizia Cencioni, 2018, 96

Fattoria dei Barbi, 2018 Vigna del Fiore, 96

Pian delle Querci, 2018, 96

Casisano, 2017 riserva, 95

Ruffino, 2018 Greppone Mazzi, organic, 95

Ruffino, 2017 Greppone Mazzi riserva, organic, 95

Castello Banfi, 2017 riserva, needs time, 94

Salicutti, 2017 Teatro, 94

Fattoi, 2017 riserva, 94

Capanna, 2017 riserva, 40+yo vines, 94 

Col d'Orcia, 2015 riserva, 45yo vines, 93

Tenute Silvio Nardi, 2018 vigneto Manachiara, 93

Mocali, 2017 riserva, 93

Paradiso di Cacuci, 2017 riserva, organic, 92

Altesino, 2018 Vigna Montosoli, organic, 92

Le Gode, 2018 Vigna Montosoli, organic, 92

See you next time

Monday, November 14, 2022

Meet the Producer: Tesalia, Andalusia, Spain

Andalusia's Wine Region (by Quentin Sadler of the WSG)

Three wines by Tesalia, from Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia, some 50km east of Jerez, the town of Sherry. A businessman from England who had lived for forty years in Spain decided he wanted to make wine and bought land for this purpose. Andalusia is known for heavy wines, the hot climate produces lots of sugar and alcohol can go through the roof quite easily. Manager Natalia decided to do a premium wine, fresh red wines in Andalusia, a novelty. They started in 2008 and in 2018 first wines were released, the 2015 vintage. They started exporting in 2019. 

We had a chance to meet the producer at the May 2022 online fair brilliantly organized by Onvinum, a new Spanish platform to bring together producers, buyers and educators.

Thank you to Cristina Aldea, the boss of Hola Wines for presenting these bottles to the Brussels Wine Club.

monkfish cheeks!

Arx 2018

Arx by Tesalia de la terra di Cadiz blend of petit verdot, tintilla de rota, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, a plump wine of complex fruity power and good balance. Harvested at night to take advantage of lower temperatures and preserve the berries during the hot Spanish Summer.

Paired with monkfish cheeks on a bed of lettuce.

Score 90

pork belly, water bamboo and rice

Arcos de la Frontera 2017 

A smooth wine, ready to be enjoyed now. Complex aromas, mature fruit and medium body, perfect balance and medium length.
Magic pairing with Chinese dish of pork belly, water bamboo and brown rice. 
Score 92

Iceni 2020

Alcohol sits front and center in this wine, with powerful tannins on the side. It is an entry-level product that would be pleasant with some bbq meat but lacks complexity and length for more ambitious pairings. I would never have guessed it spent 5 months in French oak.
Score 83


Monday, November 7, 2022

Discover Feteasca Neagra: Romania's Red Flagship?

thanks Caroline Gilby MW
Master class

Unique master class led by Caroline Gilby MW and organized by WINEaBE at the iconic 67 Pall Mall club in London. When putting Romania and wine in the same sentence, most people think of inexpensive and mostly pinot noir. That was, to a first approximation, a fairly accurate depiction of reality until recent times. Below some of my notes from this event.

Today there is much more that that. The country hosts the fifth largest vine area in Europe (after Spain, France, Italy and Portugal), and ranks sixth in the continent for wine production (after the aforementioned four countries and Germany). 

Romania might have ranked higher but it was hampered during the communist times in at least two ways: on the one hand, collectivization and government interference held back quality production, in viticulture as in so many other areas. On the other hand, in the context of the Comecon organization, Romania was not designated a wine producing country (as Hungary and Bulgaria were) and consequently every successive five-year plan neglected this sector.

When communism fell and private property was restored, the outlook began to improve, but for a long time producers preferred quantity over quality. This is now slowly changing. Diverse terroirs and climates, married to improved technology and know how, mean that this lesser known country is now projecting a new image of itself to the world.

Romanian producers are now catching up, wine makers from France and Italy are invited to transfer their knowledge, investment in machinery and wine education is rising. For example, more producers are now persuaded that it is necessary to pick grapes earlier and reduce yields to improve quality. 

One problem is that winemakers don't exchange information among themselves, should do more to create a critical mass and raise the overall quality of Romanian wines.

Today's tasting is focussed on Feteasca Neagra, Romania's premier indigenous red grape. The name means "black girl" and it is believed to have originated somewhere near Iasi, near Moldavia. An ancient grape with no known parentage.

It produces full bodied wines with powerful tannins and is therefore well suited to aging. 


We tasted twelve wines, all 100% feteasca neagra. Here is my shortlist of the best in the range.

Patrar 2019 
This producer claims to be Romania's first biodynamic wine. It has been criticized by some at the tasting for using very heavy, environmentally unfriendly bottles. Started its production in 2011 and now grows grapes on 154 ha overall.
Fresh cherries with mod length and balance.
Score 87

Mosia Galicea Mare, Oltenia (no website found)

Elegance Feteasca Neagra 2018

Founded in 2016 in an old 1912 art nouveau building, and has some 70-year-old vines on its property, claimed to be the oldest in Romania. Adopted organic farming, no additions at all except some sulphites.
Mod complex wine with excellent balance and elegance.
Score 89

Sandridge 2018
Dagon, Dealu Mare
Forty-year-old vines and spontaneous fermentation for this complex and balanced wine with good aging potential. Expensive at RRP £50 in the UK.
Score 91

Feteasca neagra origini 2018
This large winery (over 3.5m bottles annually) was founded in 2013 and works in cooperation with British winemaker Stephen Donnelly.
Ripe cherries, chocolate, a bit on the smooth side because of a bit much residual sugar and the use of  American oak.
Score 89

Guy de Poix 2015
A velvety smooth wine, perfectly balanced and long. Chocolate and ripe cherries, drink now no need to wait! The best of today
Score 92

Amarone Calling: Walkaround and Master Class with the UK Sommelier Association

First rate gathering of producers from the Consorzio Valpolicella who displayed their products in London at a walkaround tasting event organized by the UK Sommelier Association. Thank you Andrea Rinaldi and Federica Zanghirella for the opportunity and a mission brilliantly accomplished.

A master class in the afternoon, delivered by Peter McCombie MW, provided a useful educational framework with plenty of facts and figures about  Valpolicella wines and specifically about the holy trinity of this region: Amarone, Ripasso and Recioto.

The Master Class

In the maps printed here, courtesy of the Consorzio della Valpolicella, you can locate the regions of Valpolicella, with its "classic" part in west. 

Lake Garda mitigates what would otherwise be a more difficult continental climate.

The main varieties used here are corvina (56% of the total), corvinone (16%), rondinella (20%) and molinara, with some marginal additions like oseleta. All red berried, no white wines. 

Total production has skyrocketed with the increasing popularity of Valpolicella wines, and by 2021 it was over 70 million bottles, of which about half was Ripasso, one quarter Valpolicella DOC and one quarter Amarone.

These wines, almost unknown outside Veneto and certainly outside Italy until the 1980s, has became so appreciated worldwide that now over 60% of production is exported to 87 different countries for over 600 million euro of turnover. This activity keeps busy 2,250 grape growers in Valpolicella, 6 cooperatives and 344 bottlers!

As Peter put it, these allow winemakers to produce one blend, four wines in four different styles, and here below is a summary description.

1. Valpolicella, the foundation of all regional wine, a classic blend of the grapes mentioned above.

2. Ripasso Where Valpolicella wine is left with the pomace from Recioto and Amarone for a second maceration which adds alcohol, body and tannins.

Pair it by concordance with structured food like red meat or aged cheeses, or by contrast with fatty food like cold cuts or soft cheese.

3. Amarone The front and center protagonist today, "Big Bitter" wine is actually rather smooth and it can even have traces of sweetness in it. It is produced by drying berries on straw, wooden or plastic mats for about six months prior to vinification. About half the weight of the berries is lost as they gradually shrink and concentrate their sugars, acidity and, crucially, glycerin which will contribute to the smoothness of the final product. 

This methodology has now become popular in other regions of Italy (for example in Puglia) and beyond, and the word "appassimento" (literally meaning "withering") has entered the international dictionary of wine.

There is some danger of noble rot appearing as the harvest is delayed, but this is generally NOT favored by winemakers who try to harvest before and avoid it as it might alter the typical flavors of amarone. However some to make use of it as best they can.

Fermentation of the thick and dense berries is at least ten days, and abv can easily go as high as 16%.

Aging is at least three years, four years for riserva wines, usually in a mix of large barrels and barriques.

Pair it by concordance with medium structure food like ragù, white meat or even roasted fish.

4. Recioto The names comes from the "recie", in Veronese dialect the "ears" or upper part of the bunches, which receive more sun and hence produce more sugar. Today the whole bunch is used and fermentation is blocked by lowering the temperature in order to produce a sweet wine.

Pair with chocolate mousse, or don't bother pairing it at all, just have it by itself!

We tasted 14 wines in the master class, here are my three favorites:

Amarone classico 2015
Chocolate notes for a perfectly balanced wine.
Score 93

Amarone classico 2013
Complex, long and chocolaty, with leather notes. Ready now, one of the best today.
Score 96

Amarone 2016
A long complex and balanced wine at its peak now.
Score 95

Walkaround tasting

It was not easy to select a shortlist, but here below are some of the best wines tasted in the walkaround at Dartmouth House. Listed in the order I have tasted them.

Bertani, an old hand making wine since 1857

Valpolicella Ripasso Valpantena 2020
Intense aromas, perfect balance and very complex.
Score 93.

Amarone Classico 2012 (!)
This is the vintage they have just released. They tell me how proud they are, and justifiably so, of their patience where others rush to the market. After 100 days of appassimento, Bertani lets Amarone age in oak for 7 years, no less, followed by 3 years in the bottle, before they sell it. An amazing result, this Amarone is full of tertiary notes, perfectly balanced and very long.

Valpolicella classico superiore 2018
He calls this "his own version of ripasso" because of how he makes it. And it does taste like one. A powerful wine with long potential for aging.
Score 94

Amarone classico 2017
Archetypical example of amarone, with a good balance and complexity.
Score 93


Amarone classico "Il Lussurioso" 2018
Luxuriant in name and in fact, an elegant wine, complex and long. It patiently waits for 30 months in big barrels and the 1 year in the bottle and it is now ready but with some potential for further evolution.
Score 94

Recioto "Il Narcisista" 2019
Buglioni has some fun with his choice of names and also in this case he gets it right. One year in big barrels presents us with a smooth sweet wine which is looking forward to its pairing with a chocolate mousse.
Score 92

Amarone classico riserva 2013
Time well spent in the barrel for this perfectly balanced, long and complex amarone, one of the best this afternoon.
Score 94

Recioto classico 2020
A classic sweet recioto, they block fermentation by cooling down the partially fermented must all the way to freezing point. A moderately balanced moderately long version of this Venetian classic.
Score 86

Amarone 2011
A top-of-the-range product, with multiple notes of ripe brack fruit and tertiaries. A long and complex amarone that is now mature. One of the best today.
Score 96

Amarone classico riserva "Marta Galli" 2011
A complex and incredibly long wine, it was worth the wait and it is mature now, don't wait if you are lucky enough to get hold of a bottle.
Score 95

Ripasso classico superiore 2020
An easy wine, relatively, that is, as no ripasso is ever a simple wine; only 1 year in large oak barrel, ready now with limited potential for evolution.
Score 87

Amarone classico 2019
Lots of freshness after 2 years in large oak barrels, this wine requires patience, at least 5 years.
Score 87

Amarone classico "Simison"
Their flagship wine today. Hand picked bunches from 65-year-old vines in the Simison plot make it a monocru expression of the best potential for an amarone. Only 2000 bottles produced after 2 ½ years of aging in new barriques.
Score 93

Ripasso superiore 2018
Their first organic ripasso, 2 years in large barrel then 1 year in used barrique.
Score 92

Amarone classico 2017
Two years in large barrel and 2 more in barrique for a balanced final product.
Score 93

Ripasso classico superiore 2019
A high-end ripasso, complex and very round despite the young age.
Score 94

Amarone classico "Corte Valona" 2017
Ready now but personally I would let it evolve in the bottle another 3-5 years to achieve what would surely be a perfect balance.
Score 94 

Recioto classico "Le Novaje" 2019
A upper-range recioto, very smooth.
Score 93

Master class with Peter McCombie MW

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Meet the producer: Alvarez Alfaro, Rioja, Spain

I was lucky to be introduced to Alvarez Alfaro at the 2022 online fair brilliantly organized by Onvinum, a new Spanish platform to bring together producers, buyers and educators. The two wines which were kindly provided to us are pleasant examples of Riojas in the low to middle price range.

Garnacha Blanca 100%
Strong aromas of apples and apricots, and a very balanced palate. Moderately complex and moderately long. I paired it with fried sardines with green and yellow pepper and then with seared and slightly spicy haddock accompanied by asparagus. A wine in the upper-middle range of the white garnacha from this region.
Score 86

Crianza 2019
Tempranillo and mazuelo
Vines of 30+ years, aged 14 months in French oak.
moderately complex wine with fruit making its presence felt while secondary notes emerge with energy.
Score 87

Meet the Producer: Molleda wines

The Hacienda Molleda winery is located in the municipality of Tosos, 9 km away from Cariñena and 51 km from Zaragoza. It belongs to the Protected Denomination of Origin (P.D.o.O.) of Cariñena (Carignan), in Spain's North-East, one of the most ancient and pioneering P.D.o.O. in Spain. Hacienda Molleda  consists of 250 hectares of vineyards, mainly native Cariñena (Carignan) varieties, such as Garnacha (Grenache) and the grape Cariñena (Carignan), also known as Mazuela. Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Macabeo are grape varieties, which are also cultivated in the Melendez – Molleda family estate. (from their website)

Here are some tasting notes from the bottles we were sent for review.

Molleda white
Garnacha white and Macabeo
brilliant straw yellow
fresh start but soon develop smoothness for a good balance.
Mod complexity, a great Summer wine to drink in your garden or terrace
Score 88

Molleda 2020 Garnacha roble
Fresh, lively tannins, could use more time to smoothen. Mod lenght. An easy wine for a Summer bbq
Score 83

Molleda Finca La Matea, garnacha 2016
A well balanced wine, expression of fruit and elegant structure. Ready now, complex and mod long.
Score 92

Carinena NV
Entry level easy wine.
Score 76

Carinena GHM 2014

Their best product of this relatively unknown grape that presents us with a fruity nose and a lively tannin. What it lack in complexity it makes up in balance, especially a few hours after opening the bottle.

Score 88