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Editors’ picks – February 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.

Sussex beyond sparkling

Amy Wislocki

A recent tour of Sussex vineyards (look out for a travel guide in spring 2024) confirmed the dynamism that characterises the English wine industry right now – and the outstanding quality of the sparkling wines being produced. It also showed that the quality of English still wines has skyrocketed. These wines aren’t cheap, and many are made in very small quantities, but demonstrating just what is achievable is important in establishing the reputation of a still-young wine region.

One highlight: the still wines of Oastbrook, a relative newcomer to the scene, run by English husband and Brazilian wife Nick and America Brewer. Both studied at Plumpton College in rural East Sussex and do the winemaking themselves at their winery in the Rother valley, on the Sussex/Kent county border. They’ve been making wine since 2014 (winning an award for their still Chardonnay wine early on), but only planted their own vines in 2018. They are passionate about Alsace varieties for still wines, and the 2022 Pinot Blanc shows a purity of pear fruit, and white flowers. But what excited most was the 2022 Pinot Meunier – again, amazing purity of spicy red apple fruit. Both of these are sold out, but look out for the new releases in May 2024.

See Discover Sussex for further information.

Exploring Willamette Valley

Clive Pursehouse

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is in the southern reaches of the Willamette Valley. Its reputation has been on the rise for a long time, with world-renowned producers crafting some of Oregon’s best wines from the sub-appellation’s volcanic soils and windy conditions. Ribbon Ridge AVA, found in the northern end of the Valley, nestles within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA.

Nick Keeler of Authentique Cellars is making an array of wines from several of the Valley’s AVAs and his family’s Keeler Estate Vineyard – wines that are flying a bit under the radar at the moment. His work for Tonnellerie Allary (near Cognac in France) has informed his approach to winemaking, and he uses a variety of fermentation vessels to create wines of texture and balance. His Pinot Noirs are wines of great clarity, and the wines from both the cool 2019 vintage and the warmer 2016 show incredible freshness that complements perfectly the depth of fruit and savoury, umami character. His Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noirs from Ribbon Ridge (2021, US$50 authentiquewinecellars.com) are a masterclass in freshness, with pine forest influence and bright berries. The wines from the Eola-Amity appellation show a fleshy depth of fruit and fantastic structure, balanced with the spicy minerality the AVA has become known for.

Malbec in Chile

Julie Sheppard

From left: Carlos Olivares and Patricio Celedón

From left: Carlos Olivares and Patricio Celedón

Argentina may have claimed Malbec as its signature variety, but on the other side of the Andes the grape has found a home in Chile’s Colchagua Valley. Here Viu Manent was the first winery to bottle and label a Chilean Malbec, back in 1993. I celebrated this 30th anniversary last year with a visit to Viu Manent, which now also offers award-winning wine tourism and vineyard stays in the recently opened Vibo Wine Lodge.

A tasting with chief winemaker Patricio Celedón and oenologist Carlos Olivares began with a tour of the 150ha San Carlos vineyard in a horse-drawn carriage. With pre-phylloxera French rootstock on alluvial sandy-clay soil, first planted in the mid-19th century, it’s home to the centennial Malbec vines that make top wine Viu 1. ‘We follow the same logic as Malbec planted in Argentina,’ explains Celedón. ‘Soil with good drainage that we irrigate just once a year with flood irrigation to cover the whole root.’

The winery’s long experience with Malbec shows in the quality of Viu Manent’s wines. From the pure, vibrant aromatics of Gran Reserva Malbec 2022 to the terroir-driven Single Vineyard San Carlos Malbec (2021, £24.25 Great Grog). But the star (I scored it 95pts) was Viu 1 2020, a polished, elegant and beautifully balanced blend of 85% Malbec with 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Petit Verdot. Look out for older vintages in the UK: Penistone Wine Cellars offers 2019 (£104.40) and 2013 (£78).

DO Penedès: Ancient and modern

Ines Salpico

One of the most fascinating places I visited in the past couple of years was, without a doubt, the Font de la Canya archaeological site in Avinyonet del Penedès (see
penedesturisme.cat). The pre-Roman settlement, dating back to the 7th century BC and yet to be fully unearthed, provides incredible context and background to the
Catalonian region’s exciting winemaking scene today, showcased extensively at a recent tasting in London.

Penedès delivers on both deep-rooted traditions and forward-thinking exploration. The wines on show confirmed the talent of winemakers, their openness to experiment
and the expressiveness of local varieties, among which Xarel.lo and Sumoll stand out. There’s a remarkable quality and consistency across all of the DO’s producers and styles.

Distribution in the UK is, unfortunately, quite limited, with some of the most exciting Penedès wines not yet reaching British shores. But you can find jewels such as Albet i Noya’s El Corral Cremat Brut (2012, £54 Vintage Roots), an incredibly complex traditional-method sparkling and a DWWA 2023 Best in Show winner; Parés Baltà’s Amphora Roja (2021, £35.99 9 Elms Wines), a complex and textural Xarel.lo fermented and aged in clay; and Heretat Mont Rubi’s Gaintus Radical (2019, £19.50 Jeroboams), a vibrant and deep introduction to Sumoll.

See DO Pededès for further information.

Biondi-Santi’s new era

James Button

Last November, I was lucky enough to preview Biondi-Santi’s upcoming releases over dinner with CEO Giampiero Bertolini and David Gleave MW of UK importer Liberty Wines. Since the France-based EPI group purchased a majority stake in the Tuscan estate from the Biondi Santi family in 2017 (completing the full acquisition mid-2020), Bertolini has made key changes intended to increase quality and, to some extent, quantity. ‘The mission,’ he told me, ‘is to increase quality in the same style.’

To be honest, I had been sceptical about how the new management could possibly reproduce the celebrated wines of old, but I left feeling very positive that the quality will only improve and the estate’s signature delicate, poised style will be respected. Although the majority of the winemaking team remains the same, the vineyards are undergoing a thorough makeover: they have been parcelised following soil analyses by Pedro Parra, and replanting of some sites has begun with select clones from one of the late Franco Biondi Santi’s old vineyards planted in the 1930s (where more than 50 different clones of Sangiovese have been identified by the University of Florence) – including expanding the area under vine from 26ha to 33ha. New V-shaped wires will enable better canopy management, and the estate has begun working with pioneering pruners Simonit & Sirch. Optical sorters and new Slavonian oak botti [large casks] have also been installed in the cellar. Alongside the new Biondi-Santi, Brunello di Montalcino 2018, two Riservas will be released in limited quantities next month (March 2024): Riserva La Storica 2010 and 1988. One piece of advice from Bertolini? ‘You must never decant Biondi-Santi!’

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