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 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their February 2019 Claret Alternatives article; (see blue link below).
This wine was also awarded 96 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in an online article "Part of Australia's finest: Langton's top 40 (www.decanter.com) (see blue link below).
Cullen Wines is a certified biodynamic, carbon neutral and naturally powered estate, with their philosophy summed up in three simple words; ‘Quality, Integrity and Sustainability’. It is one of the oldest and most awarded family wineries in Wilyabrup, in Western Australia’s famous Margaret River region. First established in 1971 by Dr Kevin and Diana Cullen and now run by their daughter Vanya, the winery has built an outstanding reputation for fine certified biodynamic wines that receive critical national and international acclaim. All wines produced are sourced from grapes grown on the Cullen and adjoining Mangan Estates. Both are certified biodynamic, to allow the soil to be nurtured and the wines to reflect their sense of place.
The soils at Cullen are old granite and gravelly sandy loam, overlaying lateric subsoils. The fruit is all taken from the Cullen Vineyard, The Cabernet Sauvignon comprises 11.33 hectares and was planted in 1971. The Merlot was planted in 1976 and covers 1.76 hectares. Vanya feels that her conversion to biodynamic viticulture has given her better fruit, the character of which she has preserved during the winemaking process. She is determined to ensure that these characters are retained in the bottle, and feels that this is best done by using a Stelvin closure.
Yields were down in 2013 due to hail and storms at flowering. However, although the weather leading up to and including vintage was warm, the fruit produced by all varieties in 2013 was exceptional. Low yields of 4 tons per hectare produced great concentration of flavour. Indeed, the quality of the harvest was even better than 2012, which was widely regarded as exceptional. Harvest took place on 20th February and 7th March, around the new moon and on flower days, rather than the full moon and on fruit days as in previous vintages. The only problem in 2013 was the shortage of the sensational fruit that was produced.
73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc.
The grapes were grown biodynamically and hand harvested. The fruit was carefully sorted before natural primary and malolactic fermentation. The two varieties were vinified separately. Primary fermentation took an average of 35 days, wtih the average skin contact lasting for 49 days. The wine was then aged for 17 months in French oak barriques, 60% of which were new. No acid or yeast were added, producing a wine which has a great sense of place.
Low yields have produced a concentrated wine bright in colour, pure in fruit flavour concentration with the classic Wilyabrup cassis, violets, chocolate and ironstone. Complex aromas of well ripened dark fruits with nuances of blackcurrants, plums and mulberries dominate the nose. A fruit driven palate of blackcurrant and mulberry fruits finishes with fine grained tannins. Subtle layers of complexity arise from fruit that was harvested at the pinnacle of ripeness.