Decanter July

In summary, summery. That's the look of the just-today-released Decanter for July.

The magazine (www.decanter.com) treads a careful balance between the frippery and frivolity of summer (plenty of easy-going whites and light reds under discussion) and more weighty, classic Decanter fare.

As ever. it's the two main panel reviews that draw the eye. Both are interesting, unusual and out of the main flow of everyday wines, yet are not so esoteric as to render them unworthy of study or investment. As such, we've taken them pretty seriously and sought to make sure we can offer the big hitters of note.

The two panels are:

- Oaked New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - we've all three of the 95-point Outstandings here (albeit with one a few weeks away from arriving in the UK). For some, it's a an irreverent, weird fish of a thing to do, putting NZSB in oak. For others, it's very much the best of both worlds, creating a wine of the utmost flavour and great complexity indeed. Even if you think/know oaked NZSB is  not your your glass of wine, it's worth a look - the degree of oak influence in quite a few wines is vanishingly small. More details below.

- 'Value reds' of Portugal's Douro region/valley (and by that, Decanter mean anything less than £20, which is very much the lion's share of Douro reds).This is arguably the more captivating for us of the two July panels. Here again, three wines clear the 95-point, Outstanding threshold. We offer just the one, but feel it's a bit special, hence the focus. More details below.

But this is also a month with a wealth of other high-scoring wines across many features, many at attractive prices  - see below.

The wines featured this month in Decanter - and that we list - appear at the foot of this page. The reviews for each wine from this current Decanter appear on each product page.


So, to these panels. 

Oaked NZSB

It's tempting to say (with apologies), "if you like oak, and you like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (NZSB), you'll LOVE oaked New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc".

But we often find this not to be true.

That's two very strong flavours there and, for some, that would be like a ... er ... kipper vindaloo.

However, we also often find those who love NZSB but claim not to like oak (based often on bad events involving poor 90s oaked Chardonnay), and are very pleasantly surprised - and often fully wowed -  when they run into a good oaked NZSB and all the flavour complexity that is the hallmark of this style.

We've even seen the most devout of white Burgundy aficionados - no fans, typically of the often-unhinged zinginess of NZSB - moved to significant purchase of a good oaked NZSB. Indeed, as the Decanter panel stress, "If you thought you knew NZSB and have previously dismissed it for being overly fruity, perhaps it's time to think again and try some of the alternative styles that Kiwi winemakers are now dishing up". 

As the Decanter panel are at pains to point out, it's all about getting the oak/SB fruitiness balance just right and that's all about subtlety: the three Outstanding panel-toppers veered well away from too much of either. The oak effect is carefully muted/reined back using some combination of

  • big vessels;
  • older (and minimal new) oak;
  • barrel fermentation without oak ageing;
  • fractional blending <ie only a proportion of the wine is subject to oak>;
  • partial malolactic fermentation (MLF) to blunt the edge of overly-biting acidity that may clash with the oak flavours; and
  • naturally-occurring yeasts.

It's also key to use SB grapes that are less "full-on"; that is, those with lower concentrations of heavily aromatic aroma/flavour compounds (mainly thiols, for you chemists out there). Some lees ageing, a bit of bâtonnage, too... these all help to get the flavours melded and integrated. Get these factors under control, give them a little time together and you have a fine specimen.

Two of the three finest specimens from the review are no surprise (at all) to us: they, after all, are by-words for oaked NZSB.

The third, though, is a relative unknown and perhaps the most deserving of your time, especially at the price. Oaked NZSBs, after all, are seldom cheap: the average bottle price of the 3 Outstandings and 18 Highly Recommendeds was almost exactly £20.


1) Cloudy Bay's Te Koko is almost certainly the biggest name in the world in oaked Sauvi Blanc - Mondavi's To Kalon may run it close, as do a few old-school, top-end Pouilly-Fumés. The 2015 Te Koko scores 95 points here and lands much praise. It (like Cloudy Bay itself in NZSB generally) was the pioneer of the more complex NZSB style. It uses wild yeasts, 100% oak (but only 8% of it new) and no steel for fermentation and ageing. "Crisp and vivacious", "evolved beautifully", "zesty and bright palate", "lovely, lingering finish" and "perfectly pitched oak influence", said the panel. It's admittedly £38 a bottle (and quite a bit more elsewhere), but this is arguably THE oaked NZSB.

Cloudy Bay

Te Koko 2015




2) Almost as fabled, but ~60% of the price (£21.95) is the offering from Kevin Judd - he who famously splintered from Cloudy Bay - at Greywacke - their/his Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2016. This has many devout fans at Exel. This is very much about the use of wild yeasts (of course), entailing a very long, slow fermentation in 100% old oak, before time on the lees in steel. The judges were just as enthralled here: "highly floral expression", "fine and focussed throughout", "very pretty indeed", "elegant, seamless palate", "gentle, yet tastes expensive" (!), "impressive depth", "delightful balance" and "really well done". This is one to try, for sure.


Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2016




3) It's been quite a week for the last - but definitely not the least - of the three. On Tuesday, te Pā's Oke 2017 secured a Gold medal at DWWA19 - one of few NZSBs to do so. Today, it lands an Outstanding from a different jury. "Hugely aromatic - reminiscent of ice cream cornets, nougat and vanilla", "beautifully textured and rounded palate", "plenty of concentration", "flowing beautifully on the palate", "stunning", "satisfying depth" and "long, attractive and well-honed", they said. Wild yeasts, old oak barrels (in the odd shape of a cigar to increase surface area) and an extended maturation are the story here.

The great upside of the Oke is the price - just £15.50 a bottle. That's because we're able to take it directly from te Pā and cut out a large chunk of cost. Do disregard the £12 cost reported in the Decanter review - we can see no basis at all for that (and we fully investigated; indeed, we take the wine with the help of the importer listed there!)The downside is that we've only been able to arrange that in the last week, so the wine won't be with us until late July. But with us - and only us - it will definitely be: do please order as usual to ensure you get some. Do see our note on the product page re the impact on other wines in any connected order.


Beyond these three, there are very finely-crafted Highly Recommendeds from Craggy Range, Ata Rangi and Clos Henri. Some have only the lightest of oak touches (see individual product pages which detail this), and are more "standard" NZSB in nature, albeit with just a touch more body and complexity. That's particularly true of the Mt Difficulty Bannockburn SB, which we particularly rate/recommend at £15.75 (NB: the 2018 scores 92, but is not yet into the UK; we offer the excellent 2017). This is particularly delicious, especially for those requring a 'gateway' wine to transition to oaked NZSB...


Douro value reds

We increasingly see some some quite excellent reds come out of the home of Port, the Douro valley. And so too do Decanter, hence the review, and hence the top scorers. It's a welcome review, as Douro reds - even for us in the trade - can be (and are) a minefield.  The panel here provides some welcome guidance.

Typically, of Douro reds:

- They're all very reasonably priced - it's hard to find much over £20 (which is where Decanter place the upper bar on this review).

- They're all blends of (pretty much) the classic six Port grapes - the famous Touriga Naçional (body, concentrated flavour), Touriga Franca (colour, structure, aroma), Tinta Roriz (= Tempranillo, used for finesse and fruit), Tinta Barroca (body, structure), Tinta Cão (adds tannin) and Tinta Amarela (colour).

- There are plenty of rustic and (frankly) badly-made wines on offer. Even the good ones have a somewhat rural/agricultural charm, and are certainly not for lovers of light reds. To evidence this, in this review, which allowed for the 'value factor', only 17 of almost 80 wines on test came out as Highly Recommended/90 points+ or better (and one assumes only the better wines get put forward for test, especially since any sensible vintage could be submitted).

However, those that did well here are very good wines indeed. There were three Outstandings, one of which is less than a tenner. We have decided, would you believe(?), not to list it. Juicy and fruity as it is, we took the view that it's perhaps a bit-lacking-in-Touriga-Naçional and made-only-in-steel-and-simple for our discerning customers. With grapes this tannic, honestly, we take the view that some oak somewhere is required. If we've got that wrong, you'll not struggle to find that wine elsewhere. 

What we do list is the excellent Maçanita Tinto 2017. Its winemaker is much heralded as one of the finest breakthrough winemakers in Iberia; with his sister, they are producing some very fine artisan wines with far greater finesse than those of their neighbours. There's plenty more information on him/them here and here, the latter link relating to their Douro wines.

It may be (very very deep) violet in colour, and violetty in your nostrils, but the the Tinto 2017 is most certainly no shrinking violet; with 55% Touriga Naçional, it could never be. A fascinating 25% comes in from a natural vineyard 'field blend' of mixed varieties; Sousão makes up the balance to add (very fine) acidity and yet more colour (which has to be seen to be believed). There's 12 months of French oak maturation here - half of it in new oak - which adds a dimension not often seen in reds of this ilk.

Decanter said: "spicy and rich", "memorably spicy and concentrated", "finishes long", "dense yet complete and finely rendered, offering refined tannins and a smooth creaminess. Stylish and harmonious".

It's a bit more pricey than your average value Douro red at £14.95, we know, but that reflects the love it's been shown. Indeed, we've squeezed our margin and the producer as much as possible to make the price as in step with most Douro reds as we possibly can (hence the mismatch with the price in the Decanter review). Certainly, you get a lot of wine (in every sense) for your £15, and it would be £20+ but for it being us and our importing it directly. We do strongly recommend giving it a few hours in a decanter before drinking: we found it opens hugely for a decent breathe. It's only available from Exel.

Additionally, we must offer you the Maçanita white/Branco (2018). Maçanita insisted we try it. We were, being a bit Scottish, rather sceptical. Until, that is, we tasted it. We are sceptical no longer. A fantastic blend again, this, which brings together flavour, acidity/tang and a surprising amount of body. In short, it breaks the mould: wines with this much body shoudn't be this refreshing. Or, if you prefer, wines this zingy shouldn't be this full. It's a fascinating wine, and we definitely recommend you add it to any of the above.

The Maçanita wines will be with customers by the 25th June (maybe a day or two after in the event of French transport strikes...).


Beyond the panels

The magazine also features reviews and articles on:

- Carbonically macerated reds - it's not all bubbly, bad-Beaujolais-esque tat either - there's big scorers from Tapanappa, Blank Canvas and Shaw + Smith, for example, plus ... well ...  good Beaujolais (Fleurie) from Dominique Morel and a Loire take on it from Joel Delaunay.

- Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace - big points here for Albert Mann and Dopff.

- Santorini - Assyrtiko, step up - a classic pair from Gaia - the Wild Ferment and Thalassitis - and great value from Santo.

- Slovenia - some really high scorers here and too many to mention - look for Balkan names below!!

- Wakefield - the Australian producer, not the West Yorks town - their St Andrew wines do well.

- Bordeaux - there's a whole supplement this month - fines wines to be had from Chateaux Larose-Trintaudon, Guiraud and Lamothe-Bouscat at less-than-usual Bdx prices!!


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