- Bodegas Alvear
Let’s get one thing straight. Bodegas Alvear do not make Sherry. They make wines that taste a lot like sherry, look a lot like sherry and are as good as any sherry we have ever tasted, but these are wines from Montilla, some two and a half hours drive north east of Jerez.
Warmer and more inland, Montilla is Pedro Ximenez country and the grape is used for both dry and sweet wines. The latter are the most famous; thick, sticky, black-as-soot wines that coat your lips and make a ready-made sauce for ice cream. Cheap examples taste like liquidized raisins. Alvear’s Solera 1927 (which contains some wines from before the Wall Street Crash) tastes like all your Christmases have arrived at once.
The real surprise is the CB Fino, which is made under the same flor yeasts you find in Jerez only the warmer climate in Montilla means the flor is thinner and its flavour less marked. The warmer climate also means that the wine does not need to be fortified to get up to the magic 15% number. The result is an extraordinary wine; unmistakeably fino but unlike anything from Jerez. Don’t miss your chance to taste it.
- Castellare di Castellina
Castellare di Castellina does not follow fashion. While many Chianti wineries have lost touch with their Tuscan roots and experimented with blending French varieties and local grapes over the past few decades, the wine made at Castellare keeps a strong commitment to the traditional Tuscan variety of Sangioveto, the original local name for Sangiovese.
Formed in 1968 from the consolidation of five farms, it is now firmly established as one of the best names in Chianti Classico. The flagship I Sodi di San Niccolo wine is so named after the steep, hilly vineyards that workers originally claimed were too hard (“I sodi”) to farm easily, and the church of San Niccolo which sits amongst the estate’s best vineyards.
The grapes for I Sodi are taken from Castellare’s top two crus and it is proof that you can make world class Tuscan wines without any need for international grape varieties such as Cabernet or Syrah. This year it has been awarded the Tre Bicchieri by Gambero Rosso and the top mark by the Associazione Italiana Sommelier 2012 in the Duemilavini guide.
- Champagne Palmer
Palmer might just be the best Champagne House you have never heard of – despite the fact you may have unwittingly drunk some of the brilliant vintage wine.
Back in the bad old days when Champagne Houses occasionally (and rather naughtily) bought in unlabelled ready-to-drink bottles and slapped their label on the front, Palmer was often the go to name for the Grand Marques, especially for vintage wines. Why? Because they knew the quality would be very good indeed. In fact, more than good enough to be passed on as a much more famous and expensive name.
Today, those days of selling sur latte are all but over, but one thing hasn’t changed: the quality of the juice in Champagne Palmer’s wines.
The House is actually a co-operative, originally founded in 1947 by seven growers all with Grand Cru vineyards. The name Palmer was inspired by a popular brand of biscuits called as Huntley & Palmer. Any similarity to a well-known Margaux Chateau was purely coincidental (a case of Champagne removing the need for any unpleasant legal issues).
Today, Palmer has over 200 growers with 365 hectares of vines spread across 40 villages. Intriguingly, most of the vines are located in the heart Montagne des Reims where one finds some of the most underrated Chardonnay vines in the region. In the words of Champagne writer, Tom Stevenson: “Montagne Chardonnay has an emphatic minerality, but it is less chalky. The fruit has more body and structure, without any appreciable gain in weight. The aromas are more creamy, with less white flowers and citrus.”
Palmer’s quality is beginning to get noticed elsewhere. Last year, the Champagne Palmer 2006 Blanc de Blancs won Best Vintage Champagne Trophy and the International Trophy for Best in Show Sparkling Wine at the Decanter World Wine Awards. No mean feat.
We’re starting off by listing the Brut Reserve NV, the Brut Rosé NV and the follow on vintage to that Decanter winner, the Blanc De Blancs 2007 – and very pleased about it we are too. As Stevenson recently wrote on Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages: “I'm not sure who has the best deal, the bloody good distributor or the bloody good Champagne?”
- Chateau La Lagune
Since 1999, the quality at La Lagune has improved in leaps and bounds. The Frey family (who also recently acquired Paul Jaboulet & Aine in the Rhone including the famed Hermitage La Chapelle) have a habit of changing the fortunes of floundering wineries with excellent terroir by focusing on the inherent quality present and investing in the winery and vineyard. A new cuverie was built in 2004 and since then, the fruit has expressed itself with an intensity and class that belies its third Cru Classe status.
The history of La Lagune begins with vines first recorded there in the beginning of the 17th century but its reputation was developed in the 19th century. It was left in disarray around the time of the first World War and it was not until 1958 that an agricultural engineer, Georges Brunet, redeveloped the site. However, the major improvements have occurred under the current ownership of the Frey family, in particular Caroline Frey, who is the winemaker to thank for the reduction of new oak and focus on the quality fruit.
- Chateau Tanunda
(Barossa Valley, Australia)
Chateau Tanunda is one of the best known and best loved estates in the Barossa Valley, as well as one of the oldest. Vines were first planted here in 1845 and a winery was first established three years later. The iconic blue stone Chateau itself was built in 1890, and has been one of the Valley’s most recognised landmarks ever since.
The wines are classic Barossa: rich, ripe, concentrated and intense. Tanunda owns over 100ha of vines across the Bethany, Eden Valley, Tanunda and Vine Vale sub-regions and also buys fruit from 30 growers, including some of the descendants of the Barossa’s original settlers. All fruit is hand-picked and the grapes basket-pressed. The wines are neither filtered nor fined.
Sport fans should take note. The Chateau has an international standard croquet lawn and a cricket pitch that hosts the annual Masters games that traditionally feature some of the legends of Test Cricket.
- Delgado Zuleta & Rodriguez La-Cave
(Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain)
Manzanilla is Finos’s coastal cousin, produced not in Jerez but in Sanlucar de Barrameda, 20km away by the sea. One of the best loved examples in Spain is Manzanilla Barbiana – and unusually for such a prominent brand it is owned by a family-run business, Delgado Zuleta which merged with Barbiana’s original owners Rodriguez La Cave back in the late 1970s.
Barbiana was our top target when we went shopping for a Manzanilla to ship directly but before we signed on the dotted line, it underwent one of the toughest tests a wine can face. A blind tasting against the best Manzanilla’s on the market back at Bibendum HQ. It romped home the winner, and that should be no surprise. It is aged under flor for longer than its rivals and has more weight and complexity as a result. Salty, intense and moreish it is set to become a big Bibendum favourite.
We’re also listing Zuleta’s Manzanilla Goya XL En Rama. The craze for exporting En Rama sherries is one of the most exciting developments in Sherry in recent years (previously they could only be tasted at the bodegas as they were deemed too fragile to sell). En Rama refers to a wine bottled straight from the cask, with no filtering; sherry in its purest form. The Goya XL is a superb example. Here’s what the late, great wine writer John Radford said on his blog last year: “Full straw; lovely, nutty, savoury aromas; wow! Roasted almonds and walnuts on the mid palate, tremendous complexity, layered and structured, long, long finish and bone, bone dry. A masterpiece. 19/20.”
Back in 1965, a young Angelo Gaja famously walked into the best restaurant in Milan and convinced the owner to put his first vintage, the Gaja 1961 Barbaresco, on the wine list. For over 50 years, he has maintained close relations with fine dining restaurants and influential sommeliers around the world.
Gaja has sometimes shocked traditionalists at home in Italy, yet over time his wines have proven to remain true to their local roots and have become staples in the best restaurants. Quality is the keynote for Gaja wines and the Ca’Marcanda wines from the Tuscan coast bear the power and velvety lushness that all Gaja wines are known for.
Angelo has been a tireless innovator in Italy for over half a century. Gaja’s new Tuscan project allows Angelo even greater freedom to experiment with new techniques in both the winery and vineyard.
Purchased in 1996, the vines are now at the age where they are showing real pedigree. The climatic conditions are similar to Bordeaux and are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, making this region home to Italy’s Super Tuscans such as Le Macchiole, Ornellaia and Sassicaia.
- Josef Chromy
Josef Chromy is a true success story based on hard work, experience and commitment to creating quality wine. Since arriving as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechslovakia, he has been a major proponent in the Tasmanian wine scene. He invested in the state’s fledgling wine industry and has owned and developed some of Tasmania’s leading wineries including Jansz, Heemskerk, Tamar Ridge Wines and what is now known as Bay of Fires.
Josef’s vineyards are situated outside Launceston in Tasmania where cold winds from the Indian, Pacific and Antarctic oceans allows the vines to develop delicate and elegant flavours. It is this cool, but steady, climate that makes Tasmania one of Australia’s premier regions for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatic whites.
At 76, when others think of retiring, he achieved his life-long passion to create a winery under his own name. In four short years, Josef Chromy has made a remarkable impact on wine lovers, critics and the Tasmanian wine industry alike: his wines have been awarded over 14 trophies and 170 medals which makes Josef Chromy one of the most successful wine launches in the history of the island.
(Clare Valley, Australia)
Be the first to taste the wines from James Halliday’s 2013 Australian Winery of the Year when we introduce Kilikanoon for the first time in the UK at this year’s Annual Tasting. Kilikanoon consistently impress with their ability to show the incredible potential of the Clare Valley.
Established in 1997, the winery gained 5-star status in 2004, 2008 and 2012 with Australia’s leading wine critic, James Halliday, pronouncing Kilikanoon as Winery of the Year in 2013. Kevin Mitchell established the winery from two vineyards owned by Kevin and his father Mort with a vision to create the best wines possible from the grapes that excel in this region - Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The history of sherry is one of the most fascinating in wine, coloured by old bodegas and hidden soleras that have silently produced amazing wines decade after decade. In recent years the bigger players have increasingly bought up smaller concerns as economic reality has begun to bite. The great news is the bigger houses have helped to preserve the best bodegas and soleras rather than just rolling their production into one big, faceless monolith.
One such brand is La Ina, an amazing Fino-producing solera that was founded in 1919 in the shadow of the Great War and which Lustau bought from Domecq in 2008; acquiring the solera and all the wine as well as the right to the name. Lusatu have continued to produce this brilliant Fino just as it has always been done, using the same 94 year old solera. Famed as one of the most aromatic and intense of all Finos, it is dry, tangy and mouth-watering; the best aperitif known to man.
We have also two other Lustau sherries that the company acquired from Domecq in 2008: Botaina Dry Amontillado and Rio Viejo Oloroso. Both are exceptional examples of their type.
- Paul Jaboulet Aine
Since the early 19th century Paul Jaboulet Aine has been synonymous with quality wine in the Rhone. In 1834, Antoine Jaboulet (1807 – 1864) started working the land in this region, creating a lasting link between the Jaboulet name and the Rhone over the generations.
In 2006, the Frey family from Chateau La Lagune in Bordeaux saw the potential in Jaboulet‘s vineyards when they bought the estate and swiftly implemented sweeping changes, bringing a new sense of energy and purpose to this historical producer.
In what has been described as one of the great turnarounds in wine, the Frey family – and winemaker Caroline Frey, in particular – has restored Jaboulet to its position as one of the Rhone’s most important wineries.
Since the 2006 takeover, Caroline Frey has put more emphasis on greater fruit expression, dramatically reducing the amount of new oak to around only 20% for the reds, and to negligible proportions for the whites. Given Jaboulet’s important historical legacy in France, wine lovers have welcomed with open arms Ms Frey’s changes and the company’s return to the top of the quality tree.
Penfolds will need no introduction to many wine lovers. Founded in 1844 by one Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold, an ex-pat English doctor, the company has been at the heart of the Australian wine industry for over 160 years.
Despite its wide-ranging portfolio, Penfolds is synonymous with one wine above all others: Grange. First made in 1951 by the now legendary winemaker Max Schubert, it is the wine that has done more than any other to build Australia’s reputation as a producer of world-class wine.
There have only been three other Chief Winemakers since Schubert and the current incumbent is the erudite and charismatic Peter Gago, who was appointed in 2002. Don’t miss your chance to taste the very best of the Penfolds range on the 6th February.
- Rocca di Frassinello
The winemaker from Baron Rothschild-Lafite, Christian Le Somme, visits once a month and, by working closely with Alessandro Cellai (from Castellare di Castellina) they are able to maintain the essential Italian character of Tuscany, through the plantings of Sangiovese combined with the power and mid-palate weight of Cabernet and Merlot.
Situated between Gavorrano and Ribolla in the rossetto province in Maremma, the soils have similar characteristics to those of Chianti and Montalcino, but with slightly higher temperatures, so are able to reach maturation earlier compared to those territories further north. The winery was designed by Renzo Piano, one of the most admired architects in the world, and named in Time Magazine’s Top 10 most influential people working in the Arts.
The winery runs completely on environmental principles: electricity powered by solar panels and gravity-led production, and has a barrel cellar underground to allow natural airconditioning
and save energy.
- Tim Adams
(Clare Valley, Australia)
Tim Adams Wines is a family owned and operated winery in the beautiful Clare Valley, South Australia. Their wines reflect the rich soil of the region – elegant, balanced. Now, if you think all South Australian wines are about power and boldness, then Tim Adams’ wines may come as a surprise. His keynote is restraint. It certainly helps that his winery is situated in one of the highest and coolest wine regions in South Australia.
Tim is renowned for his elegant Clare Valley Shiraz and steely Riesling, so it is fantastic to see other wines in the UK that are so close to his heart: Semillon and Grenache. The Grenache was born out of adversity in the 1993 Clare Valley vintage when Tim faced a dire shortage of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, and asked his neighbour for a parcel of old-vine Grenache. It worked so well, and became so popular, that Tim created a special wine from 100% Grenache to show off the spectacular old-vine fruit.
Years of hard work, passion and curiosity have resulted in a progressive family winery that is committed to creating elegant wines, without forgetting its obligation to the Australian wine industry, environment and wider community.