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.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Western Australian Chardonnay panel tasting; (see blue link below).
The Hamelin Bay winery is located at Karridale in the southern point of the region within a few miles of the ocean. The 63 acre `Five Ashes Vineyard` is located on well drained gravel soils and faces north across the valley to gain the sun`s warmth in this cool region. The wines themselves are an expression of the natural beauty and uniqueness of the area, the fruit ripens with an intensity of flavour and richness of character. Owned by the Drake-Brockman family, who have a long association with the area, they have in recent years, achieved great recognition and awards for their range of outstanding wines.
This wine undergoes a barrel fermentation before being matured with fortnightly battonage for 9 months in new and one year old French oak barriques.
This cool climate Chardonnay has aromas of peach, pear and dried banana preceding a lovely toasty and complex palate. It is a full flavoured creamy Chardonnay created to be similar to a Burgundian wine. Fermented and aged on its lees, the stone fruit and toasted palate is balanced with crisp citrus acidity, integrated oak created a luxurious mouthfeel which leads onto a butterscotch finish. Enjoy with spicy Asian dishes, scallops or lobster thermidor and chicken chasseur.
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).
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).
Château Ksara is Lebanon's oldest winery. Its traditions can be traced back to 1857 when a group of Jesuit monks acquired the property. The Jesuits applied their knowledge of science and agriculture to plant French vines as well as developing two kilometres of Roman caves that proved ideal for the storage of wine. The Jesuits sold the winery to its current owners in 1973. Ksara is now the most modern winery in the region as well as the largest producer in the country. Their annual production is over 2.8 million bottles and they sell their wines in more than 40 countries worldwide. Château Ksara is certified ISO 9001 and ISO 2200.00 for its viticulture, production and sales guaranteeing quality and consistency year on year.
2015 was an exceptional vintage with pronounced temperature variations between the day and night which resulted in a long ripening period. The grapes reached excellent maturity levels, but retained refreshing acidity, resulting in balanced wines which express superb varietal characteristics.
Ksara's vineyards are located in the central and western Bekaa Valley at an average altitude of 1,000 metres. The Bekaa enjoys dry summers and has the advantage of its own natural water table, courtesy of the melting snow that runs off the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges; therefore no irrigation is needed in the vineyards. The slopes on either side of the valley and the valley itself create a unique microclimate in which the cool nights compensate for the hot summer days. The soils are stony with chalk, clay or limestone based. Vines are either double Guyot or cordon trained and their grapes can be considered to be grown organically because of the very limited used of sulphur-based pesticides. Harvesting is manual and the standard yield of the vineyards is between 40 and 45 hectolitres per hectare.
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot.
The grapes were destemmed and each varietal was fermented separately at controlled temperatures of 28 to 30°C. The wines were left to rest for 14 to 20 days before malolactic fermentation took place. The free run and press wine from each variety were kept in separate vats before being racked off the lees and transferred to new oak casks for approximately 12 months. The wines were racked and tasted before blending, fining and bottling. The wine was then bottle-aged for a further two years prior to release.
Vibrant, fruity aromas of raspberries and blackcurrant are supported by a wisp of vanilla. On the palate, it has power and length with balanced and mellow tannins that get softer with time, taking on leathery and cedar characters. Complex and rich with good length. Serve with game, red meat or fish cooked in red wine. This wine should be allowed to settle and be opened a while before serving.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Claret Alternatives article; (see blue link below).
The Manetti family has owned Fontodi since 1969 but has been in Chianti for centuries. Though they have always made wine, their primary business is still the production of Chianti's finest terracotta at their factory in Ferrone. Giovanni Manetti has run the property since 1980 and ensures the wines are as meticulously made as the vineyards are immaculately tended. Their 90 hectares of vineyard, 90% of which are Sangiovese, are situated in the prime 'Conca d'Oro' (golden shell) of Panzano, and have been converted to organic viticulture. Giovanni is now following biodynamic principles to obtain the best quality fruit.
There are 80 hectares of south-facing vineyards, all of which are farmed organically and are found in the Conca d'Oro (the 'golden shell'), an amphitheatre-shaped valley to the south of Panzano. This shape facilitates the full ripening of the grapes. The stony galestro soils allow for excellent drainage and encourage the vines to grow deep roots. The quality of the Sangiovese grapes from the Fontodi vineyards obviates the need for Merlot or other varieties as a remedial blender.
100% Sangiovese (Chianti Classico must be at least 80%).
The very wet winter of 2015 enabled vines to access considerable deep-seated water reserves during the spring, facilitating budding and flowering which lasted until the beginning of June. The particularly favourable climate during the summer ensured that all subsequent phenological stages, from fruit set to maturity, developed evenly. Hot temperatures in July were mitigated by some timely thunderstorms, while a sunny and quite breezy August allowed the grapes to reach a perfect phenolic ripeness. Harvest throughout September and the first week of October was facilitated by numerous sunny days, interspersed with sporadic rainfall. The 2015 wines exhibit balance, great structure and intense aromas.
Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks for two weeks, during which the cap was punched down twice a day. The wine was then racked into 225-litre French oak barriques, both Tronçais and Allier, where it remained for 24 months before bottling. The wine was matured in bottle for six months before release.
The wine is deep ruby red in colour, with perfumes of sour cherry and plums leading to notes of leather and tobacco. It has great depth of flavour, with juicy fruit and supple tannins, giving way to a silky-smooth texture. It has a great structure and finishes with a fine mineral note.
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.