Well, look at that. It might still be 2018, but the <choose own indicative term of suprise> February 2019 edition of Decanter (www.decanter.com) is on doormats across the UK and beyond.
It's a busy issue for us. We've some 35 wines listed through its pages, much driven by one particular red wine article (see below) and the big Italy supplement that accompanies each year's February edition.
The wines featured this month - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page.
The two, blind-tasted panel reviews this month are Californian Cabernet Sauvignon (2010 vintage) and Western Australian Chardonnay.
We have the utmost respect for the former, but we'd be the first to admit to this not being 'our' category. Many of the bottles in the review comfortably clear three figures and few leave much change from £50. Whilst we have a few NapaCabs and Cabs from across California (Paso Robles, Sonoma Carneros), we tend not to hold or take older vintages. It's just not our price-point, put frankly.
New World (and here, we're almost exclusively talking Margaret River) Chardonnay, on the other hand, has been a strong and popular category. Even here, we must start with an apology: we were scheduled to have one of the three Exceptionals (the Deep Woods), only for the producer and importer to change their allocations after the magazine had gone to press. Honestly, we really do try to keep those super-high-fliers coming to you...
Let this not deter you. Rated at 93 points - and inside the top dozen wines - we offer the excellent Hamelin Bay Five Ashes Vineyard 2014 made doubly attractive by a £18.75 price tag, some way below the average price of the top wines in this review (being from a region which tends to see some quite boutique price tags). On 90 points, we offer the sumptuous 2016 from Marchand & Burch, plus also Recommended wines from Larry Cherubino and Howard Park.
For the second consecutive month, it's one of the magazines major articles - again by Andy Howard MW and featuring some big scores - that most excites us. We probably feel that an article on Claret Alternatives might most gainfully have been targeted at Christmas, but it is welcome nonetheless. Here, it's more a question of which of the top-rated wines (93-96 points) we don't feature than those we do... after all, we offer 11 of the top 18 (it was higher still until a last-minute, post-Xmas, out-of-stock-at-the-importer situation materialised)!
Here, we see:
- some of our favourite wines and producers, many of which we've raved about for a while (it's a great relief when Decanter rave about them, too; you, Dear Customer, take them so much more seriously than you take us...);
- including (the links are to the featured wines themselves) Gabriëlskloof, Giant Steps, Chateau Musar, Kilikanoon, Klein Constantia (the Anwilka), Capezzana, Chateau Ksara, Chateau Ste Michelle and El Esteco;
- wines from every corner of the New World, interspersed by a few from the Old (Italy, Lebanon);
- wines that are – mainly (and obviously) - some variation on the theme of on the Bordeaux blend, mainly focusing on Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc. There are 100% versions of these varieties, plus wines that are pure Sangiovese and Carmenère for full diversity; and
- aside from the priciest two (and, it must be said, the highest scorers) - from Craggy Range (Sophia 2015) and Cullen (Diana Madeline 2013) - the wines vary from ~£14 to ~£29 and average £21, all very reasonable (when you consider these are alternatives to Bordeaux).
In summary, and assuming you’re a red drinker and (within that) not a Pinot Noir die-hard (we see a few), we defy you not to find something pretty special in amongst these.
In the main magazine, another Craggy Range wine, plus one from Trinity Hill – both are Gimblett Gravels Syrahs - land 93 points apiece in a(n unusual) feature on 'Pepper In Wine'. And one of our biggest-sellers of 2018 – the chunky Tikves Barovo 2015 – repeats its 97-point score from its Platinum Award in the 2018 DWWAs.
In the Italy supplement, we’re loaded with big scorers from Sicily (especially from Planeta (both the Santa Cecilia and Etna Bianco) and Donnafugata, but from across all regions, including such stellar (and hard-to-obtain) names as GD Vajra, Vietti and Isole e Olena.
The 2015 vintage of this wine was awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Claret Alternatives article (see blue link below). The 2015 is no longer available at the UK importer (we have a few bottles remaining); we highly recommend this equally excellent 2016 vintage.
Gabriëlskloof is a beautiful wine estate located near Bot River in the Overberg region east of Cape Town. It was purchased in 2001 by Bernhard Heyns, who had been on the lookout for the ideal place to plant vines. After planting, his first vintage was in 2009. We felt compelled to add Gabriëlskloof to our list because Peter-Allan Finlayson, Bernhard’s son-in-law, took over as winemaker from the 2015 vintage. The farm has 300 hectares, with 68 hectares planted to vines. The vineyards are farmed sustainably with the aim to move to organic farming in the future.
Gabriëlskloof winery is in the Bot River ward, where prevailing southerly winds from the nearby Atlantic Ocean create a mesoclimate perfectly suited to low-yielding vineyards. The farm and vineyards were established in 2000, with the first vintage made in the cellar in 2009. Gabriëlskloof strives to farm as sustainably as possible, and was recently awarded Championship status for BWI (Biodiversity in wine). There are a variety of different soils on the farm, with the Cabernet Franc being planted on a combination of Bokkeveld Shale and Table Mountain Sandstone.
2016 was a very dry vintage, which led to a smaller crop but the vines were healthy and produced concentrated fruit.
The fruit was hand-picked into small crates and transferred directly into the cool room where it remained overnight. 90% of the crop was destemmed with the remaining 10% left as whole clusters. The wine was fermented with wild yeasts and aged in 500 litre barrels for 18 months, with 30% new French oak used.
Deep ruby red in colour, this wine has aromas of cherry, blackcurrant and strawberry, with an earthy minerality and hints of tobacco leaf and cedar. This is a medium bodied wine with fine, integrated tannins and long finish.
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Claret Alternatives article; (see blue link below).
Kilikanoon was founded in 1997 when winemaker and proprietor Kevin Mitchell purchased the property of the same name in the hamlet of Penwortham in South Australia's picturesque Clare Valley. Hailing from a long line of wine grape growers, Kevin now had the opportunity to turn the vision of creating his own wine brand into a reality.
Kevin's father Mort Mitchell has been a defining influence, planting and tending to Kilikanoon's Golden Hillside suite of vineyards including the famed Mort's Block, for over 40 years. Kevin's fascination with terroir is a result of years spent playing and eventually working in these vineyards alongside his father. The first Kilikanoon-branded wines from the 1997 vintage were four single vineyard wines, each from Kevin and Mort's vineyards. These were the 'Oracle' Shiraz, 'Prodigal' Grenache, 'Blocks Road' Cabernet and 'Mort's Block' Watervale Riesling.
100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
To see our supplier's fiche technique / information sheet on this wine, please click on the blue link below.
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Claret Alternatives article (see blue link below).
Anwilka Vineyards is located just 7 kilometres from the ocean in Stellenbosch’s prime Helderberg region. The property was purchased in the late 1990s and extensive replanting of 40ha of vineyards comprising primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and some Merlot followed. The then owners, Lowell Jooste (the former co-owner of Klein Constantia) along with internationally well known Bordeaux wine personalities Hubert de Boüard (co-owner of Chateau Angélus in Saint Emilion) and Bruno Prats (former owner of Chateau Cos d’Estournel in Saint Estèphe) released the eponymous maiden vintage blend of Syrah-Cabernet in 2005. Anwilka has since established a worldwide reputation for this red blend which has been described by Robert Parker as “the finest red wine I have ever had from South Africa”.
The vineyards are run by manager Piet Neethling and the wine made by young South African oenologist Jean du Plessis. Much guidance is provided by owner Bruno Prats, who successfully directed Cos d’Estournel, the leading Médoc 2nd growth, for 28 years and Hubert de Boüard who steered Angélus to achieve St-Émilion first-growth status. Anwilka does not have fences so animals can move around freely. With the recent developments and fencing being put up on neighbours’ properties, Anwilka has become a haven for all these animals, particularly owls and bats which help in the vineyards to guard against pests and vine damage.
52% Syrah, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot.
To read Anwilka's own excellent and informative information on this wine, please click on the blue link below.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Claret Alternatives article (see blue link below)...
... and awarded 90 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in the Weekday Wines feature in the same issue (see blue link below)!
Please click on this link to see a most informative video about this wine which has been made by Ray McKee, red winemaker at Chateau Ste Michelle. Also, please see blue link below for the excellent, 2015 fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers at Chateau Ste Michelle.
"Great wine can only come from Italy or California" was the misconception Chateau Ste Michelle’s founding fathers set out to prove wrong when they first broke ground and pioneered the Washington wine region, shortly after the repeal of Prohibition in the USA. They have certainly opened our eyes to some of the wonderful wines that Washington State has to offer. Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the few premium wineries in the world with two state-of-the-art wineries, one for red and one for white. The whites are made at the Chateau in Woodinville, WA, while the reds are made at their Canoe Ridge Estate winery in Eastern Washington.
“We craft our Columbia Valley Cabernet to highlight concentrated Washington red fruit in an accessible style. This is an inviting Cab with plenty of complexity and structure with silky tannins. It’s also very versatile with food. Enjoy it with beef tenderloin or pasta.” Bob Bertheau, Head Winemaker.
The grapes used to make this wine were sourced from Columbia Valley vineyards throughout eastern Washington including their Cold Creek, Canoe Ridge Estate vineyards. Columbia Valley vineyards lie in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains and receive just 6-8 inches of rainfall annually. Warm, sunny days and cool evening temperatures create ideal conditions for intense aroma and flavour development in the ripening grapes.
100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The ripe grapes were destemmed and inoculated with various strains of yeast to maximize complexity. Gentle pumpovers during fermentation were used to extract colour and flavour and produce soft, supple tannins. The wine was aged for 14 months in American and French oak, 32% of which were new.
The rich, concentrated Washington red fruit for this easy, accessible style of Cabernet Sauvignon is produced by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the founding winery of Washington State. The palate delivers complexity and structure, with its robust blackcurrant and plum flavours, and soft, silky tannins. A wine to savour on its own or with a mouth-watering rare fillet steak.
Awarded 97 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 article "Balkan Intrigue" (see blue link below).
This wine was also awarded a Platinum Medal and 97 points at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).
Every wine tells a story about the synergy between the soil, sun, grapes and the country of its origin. The Tikveš Winery has been narrating the Republic of Macedonia’s story as a winemaking country since 1885. However, the Republic of Macedonia remains one of Europe’s last undiscovered wine countries: it is a natural paradise of vineyards, mountains, lakes and rivers, with a climate perfectly suited to producing quality grapes. Located in the Tikveš region of central Macedonia, the Tikveš estate sustainably cultivates indigenous varieties such as Smederevka, Vranec and Kratoshija. The grapes are vinified in the state-of-the-art cellar equipped with the latest technology under the watchful eye of illustrious consultant oenologist Philippe Cambie, resulting in a series of authentic and characterful wines.
2015 was characterised by good weather conditions throughout the growing cycle, resulting in an excellent balance between sugar, acidity and flavours. The red wines from 2015 are particularly potent, rich in tannins and flavours; ideal for ageing.
Grapes: Kratoshija 65%, Vranec 35%, being a blend of two indigenous varieties. Kratoshiya (pronounced krat-oss-SHEE-yah) has the same genetic origins as the Italian Primitivo variety. Vranec (pronounced VRANash) translates as 'black stallion' and wine made from this grape variety is associated with strength and opulence. The double Guyot trained vines are grown in a hilly plot with a south eastern orientation. Planted in well drained volcanic soils, the roots extend to a depth of 1.2 metres, where the soil is enriched with carbonates, minerals. This complex nutrition level imparts richness to the resulting wines. The vines are green harvested before véraison in order to further concentrate the flavours within the grapes. Harvest is undertaken manually, in order to ensure the grapes are picked at their optimum maturity.
The grapes were cooled for 12 hours, then destemmed, crushed and cold macerated for three days. Vinification took place over the course of 25 days, with regular pumping-over taking place in order to extract the desired levels of tannins, colour and flavours. Pressing took place in a pneumatic press which was followed by malolactic fermentation. 80% of the wine was aged in new French oak barrels for 15 months, followed by a minimum of six months bottle ageing.
A warm and savoury wine showing raisined black fruits complemented by dark chocolate and elegant toasty oak flavours.
Complex and elegant aromas of blackberries, plums and cherries combine with subtle hints of vanilla and toasty notes. Beautifully textured with a mouth-filling palate of ripe berried fruits against a mineral backdrop and a long lasting finish.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their Italy 2019 supplement as part of an article on Sicily (see blue link below).
In Planeta’s early years, expertise came from a surprising source: Australia. The winemaker brought in by Diego Planeta was an Italian – Carlo Corino – but one who had soaked in the latest warm-climate winemaking secrets during a stint in New South Wales. Ever since, Planeta has managed to captured the intrinsic perfume and fresh flavours of Sicily’s grapes in their wines. The island estate pursued an unconventional approach to winemaking, with Planeta establishing a cult following for its barrel-aged Chardonnay, at a time when most other Italian whites were typically consumed straight out of the fermenter. This early success gave Planeta the credibility it needed to open the world’s eyes to the charms of Sicily’s indigenous grape varieties, ushering in a broad range of wines that today owes as much to Grecanico and Nero d’Avola as it does to the winery’s signature Chardonnay.
See blue link below for the excellent, 2017 fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers at Planeta.