According to Decanter (www.decanter.com), the New Year is already upon us. Which is to say, the new - January 2020 - edition is out. (I'll avoid making any of the "2020 vision" jokes which we should all be expecting in the coming weeks).
And we have some of its top wines.
The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine appear on each product page.
You've probably already heard the big new of this issue: that is, of the Fairmile Vineyards Classic Cuvee NV, the 'English Fizz' that tops the English Sparkling Wine (ESW) panel review with an Outstanding, 95-point score. SADLY, NOW ALL GONE HERE, BUT AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE VINEYARD.
We - among a small handul of stockists - offer this wine in quantity and at a great price of £27.50. Being the feature that it is, we've created a much more detailed page all about English Fizz, that panel test and (specifically) the Fairmile (click here or the image below).
As you can see, Decanter's cover story is pretty clear - their Wines of The Year. There are (oddly) 59 of them. Some, we've seen in panels and tests this year ... some we haven't. It can't be their absolute toppers of the year, as many we've featured - such as the Talinay, the Cerro Anon, the Five Bells - don't feature and quite a few "lesser" ones do. That said, these are clearly all great wines, and we offer 9 of them.
Highest scorer (97 points) of all 59 wines is Charles Heidsieck's Blanc des Millenaires 2004 super-Champagne. Thing is, at £150 a bottle, it's (very much) not for everyone.
Much more for everyone is the 96-point Xanadu (Estate) Chardonnay 2017 from Western Australia's Margaret River, which we offer att a great £18.40. Of the wines here, it's definitely the pick of the bunch, the only real top-scorer at a lowish price, not to mention a real personal favourite Chardonnay. Xanadu's top-end Chardonnays are world-beaters, but you get all the expertise and skill here for less than £20. It's painstakingly made (barrel- and wild fermented, lees-aged, oak aged etc) for a wine of its price-point, and really should not be missed. There's not much stock in the UK, so do move quickly.
Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance 2015 makes its first of two appearances in this edition on 94 points, and !ATTENTION SHERRY FANS! there are two superb (and amazing-value) sherries from Hidalgo: the Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada (94) and the La Gitana Manzanilla (92). See also great offerings from Zorah, Akarua, Gusbourne and Craggy Range.
There's a super article on dessert wines (as there often is at Christmas), Top 10 New World Sweet Wines. We make no secret of being dessert wine fans (see our ever-growing compendium), and we offer 5 of the 10 that are reviewed and score well. Some are pricey (esp the icewines - but not as pricey as the icewine being marketed by an ex-Apprentice candidate - we're not allowed that), but there's some superb value to be had with the Greywacke, Seifried and Framingham offerings, all from New Zealand. Again, our old friend, the Vin de Constance 2015 appears...
There's a feature on the wines of Washington State. It's probably not fair to say that this region is forgotten, but it definitely doesn't see the praise it deserves. Impressive - and attractively priced - are Chateau Ste. Michelle's Eroica Riesling and Charles Smith's excellent Kung Fu Girl Riesling (£14.75). There are some plush, luxury reds from Betz and a great Cab Sauv, also from Chateau Ste Michelle.
A fascinating, beautifully made, Chablis-style Chardonnay from NZ's Yealands - their State of Flux 2018 - appears among Steven Spurrier's top-end choices (but isn't a top-end price).
Finally, there's an unusual Extremadura (Spain) red from Palacio Quemado (92 points) at £18.20. Pretty fascinating, this.
Awarded 87 points and Recommended status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition panel tasting of English Sparkling Wine ("English Fizz") (see blue link below).
Balfour - Hush Heath Estate, situated in Kent, dates back to 1503. At the heart of the property is a Tudor manor surrounded by 162 hectares of perfectly manicured oak forests, vineyards, and apple orchards. Forward-thinking Richard Balfour-Lynn first planted vineyards on the property in 2002, with the aim of making England's finest sparkling rosé. Today, the 25 hectares of vineyards and eight hectares of apple trees are meticulously and sustainably managed by a family of viticulturists. The wines and cider, some named after Richard’s family, are made from estate grown fruit by winemakers Owen Elias and Victoria Ash. Owen is a four-time UK Vineyards Association 'Winemaker of the Year' winner and has nearly 20 years of experience making English wines. In the summer of 2018, Balfour - Hush Heath Estate opened their new state-of-the-art winery and cellar door tasting room.
The flagship Brut Rosé is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, which spends over three years on its lees. The result is a crisp rosé with balanced red berry fruit, richness from the lees ageing and elegance from the restrained dosage. The non-vintage 'Leslie's Reserve' offers great value for an English sparkling wine. It is made from the same three grape varieties as Brut Rosé and is aged on its lees for 15 months. It is fruity and appealing, with lovely roundness on the palate and a refreshing acidity on the finish. The Blanc de Blancs is only produced in very small quantities and only in the finest vintages. The wine spends 30 months on its lees which adds depth and complexity. It is a clean vibrant style with crisp acidity and a wonderful lightness.
The Estate’s still wines, known as the ‘Family Collection’, are a real discovery. ‘Skye's English White’, a blend based on 55% Chardonnay, has a lively citrus fruit character on the palate and racy acidity that is balanced by good depth on the mid-palate. The beautifully pale ‘Nanette's English Rose’ is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier, which gives it a citrus edge. ‘Luke’s Pinot Noir’ is an elegant red, with ripe and soft tannins, beautifully balanced acidity and juicy red fruit and spice notes. ‘Liberty’s Bacchus’ is a new addition to the list, made from grapes from the Foxwood vineyard, the highest point on the estate. A proportion of the wine underwent fermentation in barrel with wild yeasts, resulting in a lovely toasty complexity balanced by zesty acidity. The Springfield Chardonnay is the first still Chardonnay that Balfour has made since 2015. Made exclusively from fruit from the marvellous 2018 vintage, with careful use of new French and American oak, this wine showcases the huge potential of English still wines. With a bright straw complexion and a fresh palate of grapefruit and green apple, this wine is drinking beautifully now but also has the capacity to age elegantly.
All vineyards are located on the 400 acre estate in the heart of Kent. Wealden clay soils overlay Tunbridge Wells sand. Vines are trellised using the double guyot method with vertical shot positioning. Planting density is 3300 vines per hectare and the whole estate is managed sustainably.
The grapes for this non-vintage (NV) wine are usually harvested in October.
The grapes were whole bunch pressed and then fermented at 16°C in stainless steel. Secondary fermentation took place in bottle and the wine aged on its lees for 15 months. The grapes are all grown, fermented and bottled on the Estate.
Residual sugar = 19g/l (ie this is just a Sec).
55% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier.
A golden colour with pink highlights, Leslie's Reserve is a fresh and vibrant style with an expressive and fruity character of citrus, green apple and a creamy mousse. It has a lovely roundness on the palate, refreshing acidity on the finish and complexity derived from the lees ageing.
ABV = 12.0%.
Awarded 96 points and Outstanding status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition article, The Most Exciting Wines of 2019 (see blue link below).
NB: previously called the Xanadu Estate Chardonnay, recently renamed by the producer!
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their April 2019 edition article: Decanter buyer's guide: Australian Chardonnay (see blue link below).
See the link below for the full set of awards the Xanadu Estate Chardonnay 2017 has (so far) received (it has only just reached the UK!).
Xanadu was established by Dr John Lagan, an Irishman, who arrived in Margaret River in 1968 and was inspired by the pioneering spirit of the region. At the time, the potential of Margaret River as one of the world’s finest wine-producing regions was only just being considered. So less than a decade on, Dr Lagan with his wife Eithne established one of the region’s earlier vineyards, planting his first vines in 1977. Lovers of literature will remember Xanadu as Samuel Coleridge’s mysterious, idyllic, exotic city; home of Kubla Khan. Dr Lagan, himself a great literature enthusiast, drew parallels between Coleridge’s visions of utopia and his newly adopted home, and thus the name Xanadu was born.
To see Xanadu's excellent information sheet for this wine, please click on the blue link below.
ABV = 13.0%.
Awarded 94 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their January 2019 edition article: The Most Exciting Wines of 2018 (see blue link below).
Awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) (see blue link below) in their Summer 2018 review of English sparkling wine.
For a full description of this wine, we would direct you to the data sheet/fiche technique from Gusbourne themselves (click blue link below).
A bright golden colour with a delicate mousse, the Blanc De Blancs has classic Chardonnay aromas of green apple, citrus and mineral notes combined with buttered toast and tarte tatin richness from extended lees ageing. This wine is a great accompaniment to seafood in general, but is perfect with freshly shucked oysters.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition article, Most Exciting Wines of 2019 (see blue link below).
The 2016 vintage was awarded 95 points and Outstanding status by Decanter (www.decanter.com) in their September 2019 edition article The Joy of Clay on amphora-produced wines (see blue link below).
Zorik Gharibian, an Armenian based in Italy, worked with Attilio Scienza to find precisely the right location for this exciting project. After three years of research and detailed analysis of every aspect of the region, he finally bought the land in Vayotz Dzor. This is historically known as the most prestigious wine region in Armenia. The intention was to create a wine of the highest international quality. Winemaker Alberto Antonini and viticulturalist Stefano Bartolomei brought a great deal of passion and planning to the project, as well as a profound understanding of how to make it a success.
Zorah has 15 hectares of vineyards, surrounded by mountains at 1,400 metres above sea level and only steps away from a 6,100 year old winery. The vineyards are situated in the small rural village of Rind in the heart of Vayotz Dzor, Armenia's quintessential grape growing region for quality wines. Long dry summers, with good sunlight and high daytime temperatures contrast with cool nights, encouraging a lengthy growing season. The soils are rocky and rich in limestone, helping maintain moisture for the vines during the intense summer heat. The indigenous vines are grown on ungrafted rootstock as the area is unaffected by Phylloxera.
The grapes were harvested by hand into small 15-kilo crates. After destemming, the grapes were gently crushed. Fermentation and maceration on the skins took place in concrete tanks with no epoxy lining. Malolactic fermentation occurred naturally. The wine was aged partially in concrete tanks, partially in large untoasted wooden casks in order to soften tannins, but mainly in traditional Armenian amphorae (karas) of varying sizes which were sealed with wax and buried partially below ground to maintain a constant temperature. The wine was very lightly filtered before bottling, and spent a further six months ageing in bottle before release.
100% Areni Noir.
Bright ruby red in colour, this wine has complex aromas of red fruits, lightly spiced with an elegant toasted note. The palate reflects the exotic nose with hints of soft red fruits, dried mountain herbs and wild earth. Generous and soft with balanced, full-bodied structure and mature tannins before a long, evolved mineral finish.
ABV = 13.5%.
Awarded 93 points and Highly Recommended status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition article, Most Exciting Wines of 2019 (see blue link below).
Awarded 95 points and Gold status at the 2019 IWC (International Wine Challenge) in May 2019 (see blue link below for review and their tasting note).
The Skeggs family were among the first people to buy and plant vineyard land in Central Otago in the mid 1990s, so were lucky enough to acquire a superb north facing site in Bannockburn. Planted in 1996, this 50 hectare site has since provided the backbone of the Akarua wines. Due to the short growing season in Central Otago, site selection is one of the key elements in making a great wine, and Akarua have a site that is among the very best. Akarua was re-introduced after many years to Liberty Wines by Tony Jordan, who makes their sparkling wines. Tony built Domaine Chandon in Australia, and is one of the world's leading experts in sparkling wine production. He has been enamoured with the potential for Central Otago to make top quality fizz for quite a while, and is now doing so with Akarua.
All the Pinot Noir grapes were harvested from Akarua's 50 hectare site on Cairnmuir Road in Bannockburn, which lies at 270 metres above sea level. The soil here is young alluvial schist based sand/silt and sandy loams overlaying schist rock. The vines are 16 years old.
The 2017 growing season was uniquely cool, leading to small bunches and low yields. Luckily, this cool weather reduced disease pressure so fruit remained healthy right up until harvest which started in mid-April.
The grapes were hand picked and 90% were destemmed. Pre-fermentation maceration took place over five days, with temperatures peaking at 31°C. Punch downs took place twice daily and post fermentation maceration lasted six days. The wine spent 10 months in French barriques, 30% of which were new.
100% Pinot Noir.
Deep bright ruby in colour. The nose displays intense black fruit flavours and the complexity that Bannockburn Pinot Noir is renowned for, with haunting aromatics of bramble fruits and spice. The palate is elegantly balanced with red fruits and finely textured tannins. A wine with great poise and longevity.
ABV = 14.0%.
Awarded 89 points and Recommended status by Decanter in their January 2020 edition article, Top Washington (State) Buys (see blue link below).
As the maker puts it: "It takes an unconventional winemaker to make a totally unexpected dry Riesling. One night, Charles was eating Chinese takeout and watching a fight scene in a notorious martial arts film when he had an idea: a killer white wine made to be paired with Asian food. Just like that, Kung Fu Girl was born. And it’s been kicking ass and taking names ever since".
More traditionally put: This wine is made by Charles Smith, a self–taught winemaker who brings his rock and roll spirit to the vineyards of Walla Walla, Washington. As a romantic young man, Charles Smith moved across the world to Denmark to follow his love for his girlfriend at the time. In Scandinavia, he became a recognized manager for rock bands such as The Raveonettes. While travelling on the road with these bands, he developed his passion for wine. In 1999, he moved back to Washington, opened a wine store and became friendly with a French winemaker, later convincing him to move to Walla Walla to make wine together.
Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling grapes comes from Evergreen Vineyard vines, where they stretch across the steep cliffs overlooking the Colombia River. This makes for ideal Riesling growing conditions that rival those in Germany. This wine is made from 100% Riesling grapes, carefully cultivated and pressed at the winery. The wine is barrel-aged for only 2 months (using the sur lie method, ie leaving the wine on its fine lees). Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling is crafted to be approachable and ready to drink the day you buy it.
The wine is a party in a glass. Young and fun, bright balance and tropical fruit notes make this an easy introduction to the world of Riesling. White stone fruit, apricot and white peach aromas with honeysuckle undertones make it a stand out. These flavours are balanced with elements of lime zest, citrus blossom and a floral hint of jasmine.
This wine would pair well with any number of foods. It can very easily be enjoyed on its own but Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling is a match made in heaven with Korean BBQ, spicy curry any kind of Thai food and sushi. Snow crab, lobster, prawns, roasted chicken or grilled salmon would also pair well.
Residual sugar = 1.4g/litre (ie bone dry).
To see an information sheet and tasting note for this wine from the team at Charles Smith Wines, please click on the blue link below.
ABV = 12.0%.