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Editors’ picks – February 2023

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

Wendouree pilgrimage

Tina Gellie

After visiting 20 wineries, meeting many more winemakers and tasting countless wines in Western Australia’s Margaret River in late November, I flew to South Australia for a second, even more hectic week of visits and tastings on my whistlestop ‘Decanter Down Under’ tour. In the Clare Valley, I was lucky enough to secure a visit to Wendouree Cellars, run by Tony Brady and his wife Lita since 1974.

The Bradys are wonderfully lo-fi. There is no website or email, or any sales, marketing or distributor to contact. There is not even a cellar door to drive up to. You have to make a (rarely secured) appointment by phone or letter. Tony keeps paper records of his loyal customers and posts an annual mail order form. Snail mail is also how you get on and reply to the allocation list, unsurprisingly oversubscribed. Six bottles per person, maximum.

Tony took me on a tour of the low-yielding, dry-grown vineyards dating to 1892, planted by Wendouree’s founder Alfred Percy Birks, and then of the ultra-traditional winery and cellar. Tony only makes reds: honest, terroir-expressive varietals and blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Mataro and Malbec. He opened a 2009 Cabernet-Malbec, the first year under screwcap, as it ‘might be interesting’ for me (Tony doesn’t drink). Silky and fluid, with whispers of liquorice, fruitcake, pencil shavings, cedar and potpourri, yet still with juicy purple berries to the fore. Bucket-list tick.

Terrasses du Larzac: Harnessing technology and tourism

Natalie Earl

Terrasses du Larzac in southern France has developed a new web application to aid wine tourism in the region. It’s slick and user friendly, in French and English, and packed full of in-depth information: walking and driving routes themed around rocks and landscapes or vines and biodiversity; podcasts; interviews with winemakers; and maps showing wine merchants, restaurants, bars and domaines. After wine tourism was forced to reinvent itself during the pandemic, this innovative approach is evidence of the sector reemerging and diversifying in a post-Covid world, giving tourists independence and the tools to create their own unique experiences.

No stranger to a wine holiday, I’d certainly use this to plan visits, treks and learn useful info. What this means for local wine guides or even perhaps traditional wine media is more uncertain… During the region’s fête des vendanges (harvest festival) last October, I tested the app and tasted an array of wines from this dynamic appellation. Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette’s Les Clapas 2020 (2016, £22.99 Carrington Wines) stood out for its plush fruit, mineral core and refined tannins, while Mas D’Amile’s Le Petitou 2020 (2018, £16.80 ddwine.uk) caught my eye for its lifted red fruit aromas and succulent acidity.

Chenin & Steen: A cross-continental celebration

Ines Salpico

Last year will not go down in history as a year of prosperity and joy: inflation exploded, wars broke out, and then there was politics… best not to talk about that. Through it all, the wine sector remained an example of cooperation and dialogue, as shown in a brilliant tasting, hosted last December by Loire Valley Wines, in which the French organisation presented some of its best expressions of Chenin Blanc alongside flagship South African counterparts. The event was not a Chenin vs Steen duel (Steen is how Chenin is known in South Africa). It was, rather, a celebration of both – highlighting how the variety has found a second home far from its birthplace in the Loire and remains true to its identity across terroirs and styles.

The event was a feast of creativity, character and winemaking excellence and included iconic bottles from top names. From Château de Plaisance’s Ronceray Anjou (£24.95 Lea & Sandeman), to Mullineux’s Kloof Street Old Vine Chenin (£15.75 Hic), by way of Nicolas Joly’s Les Vieux Clos Savennières (£48 BuonVino) and Ken Forrester’s The FMC (£38.75 Field & Fawcett).

The main takeaways? That Chenin is an incredible grape, full of character but humble enough to let terroir and winemaking personality speak; and that you don’t need to spend a fortune to enjoy some of the finest examples. I’ll toast to that with a glass of Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Vouvray Pétillant Brut (£18 Love Cheese & Wine).

Great winter feast

Amy Wislocki

An unexpected food and wine pairing – though you may have come across it in Santorini. Delicious slow-cooked lamb cooked by Mary Pateras of Eclectic Wines, importer of some of Greece’s finest wines to the UK, to accompany some older vintages of Assyrtiko she had unearthed, all made by Santorini winemaking genius, the late Haridimos Hatzidakis. These are white wines of immense complexity and structure, with the acidity to cut through the fat of the lamb, and the body from ageing in oak to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed. The 2016 vintage was outstanding in Santorini, and the unfiltered Assyrtiko was as fresh as a daisy, but textural too, with a quite Burgundian character.

The standout for me, though, was the Assyrtiko de Louros Vieilles Vignes. Only 3,600 bottles were produced of this wine made from 100-year-old vines, barrel fermented and aged on the lees in old oak for two years. Rich, oily and complex, this has depth, concentration and elegance, and is testament to the skill of the visionary winemaker behind it.

Rioja: Ageing gracefully

Julie Sheppard

The release of the new 2016 vintage of La Rioja Alta’s Viña Ardanza was as good an excuse as any for a vertical tasting of this historic Rioja label. The Ardanza brand was registered in 1942 and is named after one of the five families who founded La Rioja Alta back in 1890. At the time it was common for labels to refer to the winemaking style and early bottles of Ardanza were dubbed ‘Burgundy style’. It’s a fitting moniker for this long-lived, elegant wine, a blend of Tempranillo from Rioja Alta and Garnacha from Rioja Oriental, aged in US oak.

The vertical began with what the winery’s technical director Julio Sáenz described as two ‘older style’ vintages – a silky, savoury Viña Ardanza 1989 and richly layered 1994 – both ‘more spicy and less fruity’. The 21st century Ardanzas are noticeably more fruit-driven (and more my style). Viña Ardanza, Reserva Especial 2001 and Viña Ardanza 2004 shared precision and concentration – both with plenty of life ahead. But 2008 stole my heart with its purity of fruit, subtle tannins and wisps of smoke on the nose. ‘It could be better than the ’04 in 20 years’ time…’ mused Sáenz.

And the new Viña Ardanza 2016 (95pts)? Still young, it combines coiled concentration with Ardanza’s trademark elegance, already harmonious but with a fresh streak of acidity. (From £119 for 6x75cl in bond; stockists include Armit, Berry Bros & Rudd, Bordeaux Index, Goedhuis & Co, Honest Grapes and Jeroboams.)

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