Last year, Château Pape Clément, Grand Cru Classé de Graves, celebrated its 770th anniversary, now heading towards eight centuries of continuous wine production (the vineyard was planted in the 13th century by Bertrand de Got, who went on to become Pope Clement V). A special tasting was held in Paris last November to showcase the estate’s wines: 2009 and 2014-2020 inclusive in red, and 2015 and 2017 of the white.
The jewel in Bernard Magrez’s ever-growing empire, purchased in 1980, has seen an incredible renaissance since the 2000s, but particularly following a refurbished vat room in 2007 and more recently the implementation of a new R&D team focusing on eliminating chemical inputs during vinification, anticipating the impacts of climate change, improving ploughing techniques and integrating robotics for precision viticulture and disease management.
A classic style of roughly 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the 2009 (£130-£165 in bond, widely available) is heady and potent, imposing and broad-shouldered but finessed with marked acidity: beginning to enter a lovely drinking phase. 2014 (£60-£80ib) was a great surprise, joyful and lightly framed with delicacy and definition. 2016 and 2019 (both retailing at about £90-£125) are stunning, the former smooth and seductive with energy and vibrancy, the latter charming and rich, and supremely easy to like.
Swooning over Swinney
I was lucky enough to taste the new releases from Matt Swinney, fourth generation of his family’s 250ha wine estate in Western Australia’s Frankland River. Long renowned as a bespoke grower for other wineries, since 2018 Swinney has used the organically farmed fruit for his own brand. Also joining us was sixth-generation winemaker Rob Mann (grandson of Jack Mann, of Houghton’s White Burgundy fame), who came on board in 2018.
The Swinney range focuses on Rhône grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, and the 2020 vintage wines retail at £33 via The Great Wine Co (importer Enotria&Coe). I was impressed by all of them, but bowled over by the Grenache and Syrah under the premium Farvie label – the nickname of Swinney’s great- grandfather, George, who settled in Frankland River in 1922. Farvie, Grenache 2020 (allocation only, but about £90-£100) is a stunner: incense-like musk perfume, raspy-textured palate with chalky tannins, a salivating mineral tang and a rustic note from the Mourvèdre co-fermentation.
‘We had the fruit quality, the aspiration and the obsessive and uncompromising determination,’ said Swinney. ‘I want the wines to sit alongside the best in the world, but speak of Frankland River.’ It’s an ambitious, exciting estate I’ll be following closely. (The Grenache 2018 won Gold in the DWWA 2020: £99.50 The Great Wine Co.)
From Champagne to Carneros
During a presentation of California Chardonnay, one wine from Carneros stood out. Stylistically, its emphasis on verve, elegance and minerality, rather than ripeness and opulence, distinguished it from its peers. Champagne house Louis Pommery came to California to make sparkling wine in the Carneros AVA in 2015. With the 2019 vintage, the producer – whose historic sparkling roots date to the 1850s – released its first still American wine; marking the second release is the Louis Pommery Carneros, Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2021. The aromatics offer vibrant, inviting walnut husk, cardamom and crushed limestone. The winemaking was overseen by Clément Pierlot, the Pommery cellarmaster in Reims, who seeks to make a Chardonnay that harkens to France’s Chablis.
Just as you’d expect from a Champagne producer, the wine is marked by freshness and energy, with a notably cool-climate temperament. The palate is lithe, energetic, and the wine’s stainless steel production emphasises the fresh, lively fruit. Flavours are of candied orange, lemon crème and hazelnut. An intense richness and ripe fruit core is embellished by stony minerality and a long finish. (The 2019 is still on sale in the US: $35-$41 Grand Wine Cellar, Grapes & Hops Deli.)
Moldova is a small winemaking nation between Ukraine and Romania. The country, some say shaped like a bunch of grapes, has more vines per person than any other. Aligoté, some international grapes and Eastern European varieties such as Rkatsiteli and Saperavi account for most plantings. Fautor’s Barbaro 2019 (a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo and Cabernet) from Valul Lui Traian was a delight (£27.79 Vida), the red and dark fruits in perfect harmony with refined tannins and elevated acidity. The Purcari, Academia Viorica 2020 orange wine (£40.19 plus shipping, 8wines.com†) was a beauty with its oak-spiced nose, nutty palate and a profound finish of dried yellow fruits. Purcari’s Academia Fetească Neagră 2019 (£40.19, 8wines.com†) is a masterpiece that effortlessly balances ripeness, tannin and oak. For everyday drinking, go for Gogu’s Fetească Albă 2021 (£11.99 Vida) or Co-op’s entry-level Tilting Tree Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (£6 Co-op), both crisp with perfumed fruits.
†8wines.com is based in the EU. For UK consumers purchasing from outside the UK, please note that bottle prices shown include stockists’ shipping fees, duty and taxes where known at time of writing. Goods could still be subject to additional charges or shippers’ fees on delivery – check with the retailer concerned before purchasing.
Suolo: New Sicilian single-plot releases
The new Suòlo (‘soil’) project from established Sicilian estate Duca di Salaparuta – whose flagship Duca Enrico was the first 100% Nero d’Avola bottled in Sicily, in the 1980s – focuses on three plots singled out for their quality and interest. Head winemaker Barbara Tamburini talked me through the wines during a video call. Suòlo 3 Sauvignon Blanc, partially barrel fermented, is textured, airy and exotic, with flashes of mango and passion fruit then a spicy finish. Suòlo 5 Zibibbo takes an indigenous Sicilian variety and gives it some lees ageing to add body to its incredible musky perfume of pineapple, white flower, Cantaloupe melon and peach. ‘When we talk about Zibibbo, we touch my heart!’ said Tamburini; it’s easy to understand her affection for this grape. Suòlo 7 Cabernet Franc is my pick of the three, however. Matured in barriques for 12 months, its plush yet balanced blueberry and chocolate character combines with pepper and herbs; juicy and succulent with good freshness. All three wines are delicious; seek them out for a non-typical expression of Sicilian sun and earth (current vintages all 2020, priced €25).