The charm of aged English Blanc de Blancs
It’s a pleasure to have had more opportunities to taste aged English sparkling wines recently, with the trade wanting to shed light on their ageability (look out for an ‘Expert’s choice’ selection by Susie Barrie MW, focusing on the ageability of English fizz in our October 2023 issue). My recent experiences include a vertical tasting (2009 to 2018) of Blanc de Blancs from Wiston Estate of the South Downs. Sourced from a steep, chalky vineyard with shallow topsoil, the Chardonnay was whole-bunch pressed using a gentle Coquard press from Champagne and aged in a combination of used barrels and steel tanks before second fermentation in bottle. The 2009 was my favourite. This was a warm vintage followed by an early harvest.
The wine exudes custard tart and lemon drizzle cake on the nose; the palate has a generous mousse with fabulous texture and depth, expressing notes of dried mango, honey-roasted almond and candied citrus peel. Equally impressive was the 2011, a vintage saved by a hot autumn. Concentrated, ripe fruits here offer great complexity and weight. While these two vintages are hard to find on the market, opt for the library release of 2010 (£130 Hedonism) – a long growing season in this vintage produced grapes with good ripeness. Without malolactic fermentation, the 2010 is a testament to how the vibrant, razor-sharp malic acid ‘energises like a train that carries the flavours on a journey’, as winemaker Marcus Rayner puts it. Layers of honeyed yellow fruits, sweetly spiced citrus and nutty notes develop around a solid backbone of acidity, leading onto a long finish.
Luísa Amorim – Terroir-led entrepreneurship
When I first visited Herdade da Aldeia de Cima in Alentejo, Portugal, in 2020, the estate was an almost blank canvas, and in need of much work and investment. Luísa Amorim, daughter of the founder of the eponymous cork empire, has since spent a lot of time and resources to restore its natural balance and make it a viable working estate producing, among other things, wine. The budding project is slowly coming into its own, as shown in the modern classicism of its wines. The white Garrafeira 2020 (£42.50 Sommelier’s Choice) and red Myndru 2019 (£72) stand out in a range focused on purity and elegance.
I also visited another of Luísa’s three wine projects, Taboadella 1255 in Dão, where the same ethos is applied to the grapes of this emerging, and often overlooked, region in central Portugal. The wines are characterful and vibrant, conveying the taut freshness of Dão’s granite soils. I was particularly taken by the Villae Branco 2022 (the 2021 is available from Sommelier’s Choice, £18) and Alfrocheiro 2021 (2019, £21), both examples of the quality and precision the estate has been known for since its inaugural vintage in 2019.
Provence’s island wines
Luxury goods house Chanel added Domaine de I’Ile to its portfolio of wine properties (Châteaux Rauzan-Ségla, Canon and Berliquet in Bordeaux, and St Supéry in Napa Valley) in 2019. The estate is set on the island of Porquerolles on the French Riviera and is certified organic, producing just two wines, a white and a rosé, both unoaked. Director Nicolas Audebert and estate manager Pierre Etcheberry brought the 2022 releases to London, and both wines impressed with their purity of fruit, structure and salinity. The Côtes de Provence White (2022, £28 Goedhuis & Co) is a pear-scented 100% Rolle (aka Vermentino).
The winemaking team has moved to a slightly later harvest date in order to lessen the pronounced acidity of previous vintages and bring more balance. The Rosé (2022, £22.20 Goedhuis & Co) is quite deeply coloured in this warm vintage – they don’t believe in stripping out colour or adding white grapes – and is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Tibouren. Future vintages will see the percentage of Tibouren (currently 5%) increase; it adds fruit, purity and minerality, says Audebert.
Rocky Mountain high
Climate change continues to challenge growers and winemakers to find conditions that allow them to manage overripeness and create wines of balance. Producers in many regions in the American west are seeking higher elevations as a source for freshness. In Colorado, Ben Parsons’ Ordinary Fellow wines take this concept to the extreme – he is making wines from vineyards growing at nearly 2,000m above sea level.
While the Colorado wine industry is still young, Parsons has been involved since the early days and he continues to lead the way. The Ordinary Fellow, Pinot Noir 2021 is a breath of fresh mountain air. From the American frontier but Old World in style, this bright, ruby-coloured wine is lithe, crunchy and delicious, with aromas of fresh mint, crushed stone and raspberry. The palate is fresh, energetic and zesty with flavours of candied orange peel, watermelon, basil, white strawberries and early-season raspberry. For lovers of fresh red fruit, the Pinot Noir from The Ordinary Fellow is anything but.
The Indiana Jones of terroir
‘There’s a difference between wines from winemakers and wines from terroir,’ states Pedro Parra. The Chilean soil and vineyard mapping expert, who consults to wineries across the Americas and Europe, hosted a tasting of new vintages from Altos Las Hormigas – the Argentinian winery where he works with Alberto Antonini – and his own wines from Chile’s Itata Valley.
I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much about terroir. Parra’s unique concept is ‘fire and ocean’. Viticulture and viniculture can both be considered in these terms: limestone is ocean, while the volcanic soils of Priorat are fire; concrete is ocean, barrels are fire. This philosophy translates into a portfolio of precise, ethereal wines from Itata, where Parra works with País and Cinsault. ‘País is very focused on terroir: it’s only good when it’s in a good place,’ he says. He’s clearly found the right place.
Seek out Vinista 2021 (£20.20 Theatre of Wine), a vibrant blend of País from four sites, or top wine Miles 2021 (£81 Cambridge Wine Merchants), an elegant, harmonious expression of Cinsault with delicate swirls of florality, smokiness, minerality and lifted red fruit.