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PREMIUM

Editors’ picks – April 2024

Each month our editorial team tastes a lot of wine, but not all of it makes it onto the page. So here’s our in-house pick of other great wines we’ve tried.

Koshu’s many faces

Sylvia Wu

Mount Fuji was hidden behind clouds upon our arrival at Grace’s Akeno site. Up at 700m, the towering mountains surrounding us reminded me we were in the heart of Yamanashi, a region renowned for being one of the sunniest in Japan. The Grace, Misawa Vineyard Akeno Koshu 2021, from a 4ha site, is one of the most concentrated, complex Koshus I’ve ever tasted. It’s a pioneering example of the potential of this ethereal variety, achieved by adopting vertical shoot positioning (VSP) for smaller berries and higher sugar levels, along with judicious touches of neutral oak. Sur lie is a more common method for giving this subtle grape some muscle. Such is the case for the Suntory, Tomi no Oka Koshu 2021, which boasts elegant flavours of yuzu, spiced citrus zest and yellow fruits on the finish, while Chanmoris Winery’s Hosaka Koshu 2023 brightens the day with abundant aromas of citrus, mango peel and lemongrass. Château Mars, Orange-Gris Koshu 2022 charms with its apricot-tart palate and gentle grip, and the Verdinho, Koshu 2022 has a memorable perfume of jasmine and green citrus – perfect for seafood thanks to its limpid minerality and freshness.


Somerston Estate in Napa’s east hills

Clive Pursehouse

At a recent tasting in Napa, I was smitten by the Somerston Estate wines. Away from the valley floor, turning off the Silverado Trail onto the circuitous CA-128 leads you past Pritchard Hill and to the sprawling vineyards of Somerston Estate, nestled in the foothills of the Vaca mountains. The wines made by Cody Hurd sing of elegance, balance and classic Napa Valley, a kind of throwback to an earlier era. The Somerston Estate LXXI Sauvignon Blanc 2021 is brilliant, brimming with minerality and freshness. Whole-cluster pressing and fermentation for 18 months in new and neutral barrels, six months sur lie, lends this wine depth and texture. Notes of smoky grilled lemon and a crisp salinity evocative of seaspray frame citrus cream flavours and mineral complexity. The Somerston Estate XCVI Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 is a revelatory rendition of Napa’s iconic variety. Aromas open to eucalyptus, bay leaf and gravelly dust. The red-fruited palate flashes fresh berries that are encased by a savoury edge with mint, dried thyme and smoky clove, lending elegance and depth to this well-heeled bottling. Classics and elegance still thrive in Napa – you just have to know where to look.


Otronia: Shaped by extremes

Ines Salpico

Landscape scene with man sitting on rock in Sarmiento, Patagonia, Argentina.

In Sarmiento in southern Chubut – a province in Argentine Patagonia – Bodega Otronia is the latest project of Grupo Avinea, best known for Bodega Argento (Mendoza). Eager to explore the extreme terroir (one of the world’s southernmost at 45° 33’ latitude), in 2010 the group planted 50ha of vineyards, which are now beginning to bear mature fruit, truly capable of showcasing the region’s potential. Argento’s head winemaker Juan Pablo Murgia was tasked with leading the pioneering project and soon became fascinated with the possibilities offered by Sarmiento’s extreme conditions. High UV levels and relentless winds tease the grapes into producing thicker skins, while significant diurnal and annual temperature variation allows them to retain high levels of acid. Murgia travelled to London recently to explain the challenges and allure of working in such particular conditions, as well as the uniqueness of the resulting wines. The latter was obvious while tasting through Otronia’s range, in which a standout was the Pinot Noir (2020, £60 Hic) – one of two 95pt top-scorers in our ‘Pinot Noir: Americas’ panel tasting. Other stellar examples, such as the Otronia Malbec and 45 Rugientes Merlot unfortunately do not yet have distribution in the UK.


Antonini talks terroir

James Button

Renowned wine consultant Alberto Antonini – who has worked with, among many others, the Frescobaldis, the Antinoris and the Mondavis – was in town in January to showcase wines from his personal Poggiotondo estate in Tuscany at Liberty Wines’ portfolio tasting. He and I, along with winemaker Giacomo Beltrame, met up the day before at Scott’s in Mayfair for a very in-depth discussion of viticulture and winemaking and – of course – a preview of their wines. ‘The challenge in making a terroir-driven wine is to understand all the complexities of the environment,’ Antonini explained. A believer in the impact of the soil on vine health and wine quality, he has worked closely over the years with wine terroir consultant Pedro Parra. The salinity and electricity of Poggiotondo’s Vermentino delle Conchiglie (2022, £21-£22.50 NY Wines, Shelved Wine) worked beautifully with plates of mixed oysters and tempura prawns, while Vigna del 1928 Chianti Riserva (2019, £43-£53 3Wines, Our Sommelier, Shelved Wine) – a single-vineyard wine using 50% whole-bunch fruit vinified in 16hl concrete ‘tulip’ tanks, but sticking to the traditional Chianti ‘recipe’, which includes dashes of Canaiolo, Colorino, Trebbiano and Malvasia – had all the texture, intensity and fragrance to stand up to duck in a blood orange sauce.


Sugrue South Downs settles down

Amy Wislocki

Dermot Sugrue with bottles in cellar

It’s fortunate that Irish-born Dermot Sugrue thrives on stress. The past few years have been a whirlwind for England’s most talented winemaker, who has 20 years’ experience under his belt with a raft of well-known English winery names. In that time he has left Wiston Estate, where he worked for 16 years, moved house, got married, had a baby, and then – with investment from Robin Hutson, owner of The Pig hotel group – built a new winery for the wines he makes under the Sugrue South Downs label, from several sites in East and West Sussex. The winery is next to his new Bee Tree Vineyard. Building work was supposed to be finished by July 2023, in time to receive the harvest, but work overran and he ended up having to process 146 tonnes of fruit while work was ongoing. He’s excited about the quality of the 2023 vintage, which he says is greater than the much-exalted 2018, as it has better physiological ripeness. Dermot and his winemaker wife Ana will be offering tours and tastings by appointment by summer 2024.  (Look out for our Sussex travel guide in June 2024).


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