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. For our full compendium of over 400 Decanter-rated wines from the last two years, please click here.
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...);
- 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 Italy 2019 supplement as part of an article on Sicily (see blue link below).
This wine was also awarded a Platinum Medal, 97 points and Best in Show status at the 2018 Decanter World Wine Awards (click link for details).
The Rallo family has made wine in Marsala since 1851 and their ancient cellars tunnel beneath the city. They were one of the first families to begin making high quality table wine when sales of traditional Marsala started to decline, launching the Donnafugata label in 1983 and championing the potential of the region's native varieties. Today, Donnafugata has three estates in Sicily. Donnafugata means 'fleeing woman' and is a reference to Queen Maria Carolina, who escaped the court of Naples in the early 19th Century with her husband, Ferdinand IV of Bourbon, when Napoleon's troops arrived. The couple took refuge in Sicily at the Santa Margherita Belice palace, also the favourite residence of celebrated writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and depicted on the 'Mille e Una Notte' label.
From vines planted on the island of Pantelleria (South-Western Sicily), this is a modern take on the classic Moscato Passito. The name Ben Ryé derives from the Arabic 'Son of the Wind', after the wind which sweeps round the island. Vines are planted in hollows in the ground, at altitudes of 20-400 metres above sea level on terraced, sandy slopes of volcanic origin. The low bush vines of Pantelleria have been described on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a 'creative and sustainable practice'. The vines are over 100 years old and are ungrafted.
The 2015 vintage experienced cooler temperatures and more precipitation than in previous years. Overall, between 1st October 2014 and 30th September 2015, rainfall reached 763mm compared to the 656mm average of the last 10 years. In July, maximum temperatures were higher than average for the period which aided the ripening process of the grapes. Considerable temperature fluctuations between day and night encouraged the development of perfumes in the grapes.
Once the grapes reached the winery, they underwent further selection on a vibrating table before soft pressing. Fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures. The dried grapes – added to the fresh must in several batches – were destemmed and selected by hand. Ageing took place in stainless steel tanks for seven months and at least 12 months in bottle before release.
Brilliant amber in colour, Ben Ryé is wonderfully fresh and complex. The bouquet is intense and fragrant - aromas of apricots and candied citrus zest combine with notes of Mediterranean thyme and rosemary. The palate is well-defined and intense, with pleasant sweetness well balanced by fresh acidity and great minerality. The finish is long and persistent - a captivating Passito di Pantelleria.