To understand the concept of terroir is one thing, but to see it in action is another altogether. On a crisp, sunny February morning I met ‘map man’ Alessandro Masnaghetti for a tour of the Chianti Classico commune of Gaiole. Masnaghetti’s incredibly extensive research of the DOCG has resulted in a groundbreaking book, Chianti Classico, The Atlas of the Vineyards and UGAs (€70 Enogea, September 2022). Following on from his hugely influential books on the MGAs of Barolo and Barbaresco, this latest book seeks to map Chianti Classico in never-before-seen detail and define the region’s recently announced UGAs – unità geografiche aggiuntive, 11 in total – following close consultation with the regional consorzio. I strongly recommend purchasing the book if you’re a wine and/or soil geek (it also helpfully includes some itineraries for your next visit to the region). However, for a simpler overview of Chianti Classico, Masnaghetti has also worked with the consorzio to produce an interactive drone’s-eye view of the landscape. Visit chianticlassico.com to find out more.
A trio of South Africans
Last month, following UK importer Hallgarten & Novum Wines’ annual tasting, I caught up with three of its South African producers. Decanter has charted Samantha O’Keefe’s journey – including her recovery after the 2019 fires that destroyed her Lismore property in Greyton. While her Estate Reserve Syrah 2018 blew me away, it’s not yet available in the UK, so snap up a bottle of the Lismore, Estate Reserve Viognier 2021 (£49.95 Handford Wines) and revel in its heady jasmine and nectarine opulence.
I could geek out for hours listening to Richard Kershaw MW talk about the fastidiousness with which he attacks every aspect of the winemaking process at his Elgin estate. The 2018 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are stunning, but the Kershaw, Clonal Selection Syrah 2017 (£39.99 Lay & Wheeler, The Wine Library, Wine Republic) is a beauty: supple and sappy with violet and pepper elegance.
Elizma Visser and the unique, terroir-driven wines she creates at Olifantsberg in Breedekloof first came to my attention in 2019, and quality has only improved since. Grenache Blanc is her standout varietal wine, and while you wait for the delicious 2021 to arrive, I recommend you to seek out the last of the Olifantsberg, Grenache Blanc 2020 (£20-£23 Shelved Wine, Strictly Wine, The Oxford Wine Co), packed with waxy quince, samphire and white blossom.
Loire new vintages
Specialist Loire importer Charles Sydney Wines represents some 75 growers, its roster a roll-call of some of the region’s finest names. For this reason its annual London tasting, showcasing an extensive range of new releases, is always well-attended. This year’s tasting, the first since Covid, focused mainly on 2022, a vintage that growers desperately needed to be successful after the frost-ravaged 2021. It wasn’t without its challenges in the end, and these included extreme heat, hailstorms and some frost damage in Muscadet. Overall, though, it was thankfully easier than 2021, with both quantity and quality putting a smile back on growers’ faces.
Highlights included an intensely perfumed, lemony André Figeat, Les Origines Pouilly-Fumé; Jean-Max Roger’s Marnes et Caillottes Sancerre; Cent Visages Touraine from Jean-François Mérieau (a regular favourite of mine – 100% Côt, aka Malbec); and two (2020 vintage) deliciously pure Chinon wines from Charles Joguet. Some of the 2022 wines may take a while to find their way onto retailers’ shelves, but when they do, they’re worth seeking out.
Cadence: Staying steady on Red Mountain
Ben Smith and his wife Gaye McNutt opened the doors on Cadence winery on 1 April 1998; in 2004 they would buy 4ha of land on Red Mountain, which would become the Cara Mia Vineyard. Cadence celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, and the style has been consistent: elegant and harmonious. These are indeed wines of place coming from one of Washington state’s hottest sites, Red Mountain. The Cadence wines stand out, owing to Smith’s deft hand and McNutt’s blending acumen, but they are unique on two counts: Cadence always picks first on Red Mountain, anywhere from one to three weeks ahead; and the couple’s deep embrace of Cabernet Franc. It’s a grape seemingly perfect for Red Mountain, where it gets reliably ripe, giving their wines wonderful herbal and mineral character.
A retrospective tasting from across Cadence’s 25 vintages showed the Cabernet Franc-based Bel Canto to be exceptional in every vintage. The Bel Canto 2019 (US$70) offers savoury hints of fresh sage, mustard seed and crushed stone mingling with red and black fruits. Their remarkable first estate release Bel Canto 2006 was revelatory: 17 years on, it’s fresh, lush and layered with bright red fruit, savoury herbs and notes of green and black tea.
Etna to Barolo: A captivating journey
Iconic producers from iconic regions tend to shy away from comparisons and confrontations. Yet some of the most insightful tasting experiences can occur when drawing parallels and finding connections between different grape varieties, terroirs and geographies. This was precisely what happened when I embarked on a fascinating tasting journey from the slopes of Etna to the hills of Barolo, hosted by Mattia Tabacco of OenoTrade. His guests were Federico Graziani, from the eponymous Etna estate, and Andrea Farinetti of renowned Barolo producer Borgogno.
It was a privilege to be able to delve into the history and stories of two of Italy’s most interesting regions, for their rich heritages both viticultural and cultural. From the strong personalities of Nerello Mascalese and Nebbiolo to the moodiness of vintages, by way of the many points of intersection between Etna and Barolo’s history – not least the period, in the 1930s, when a shortage of fruit in Piedmont led Barolo producers to source Etna grapes – the itinerary could not have been more captivating. Among the most delicious stops were Borgono’s Liste Barolo 2016 (£70 Millésima) and Federico Graziani’s Profumo di Vulcano 2019, an Etna Rosso blend of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante and Francisi (£99 The Wine Place).