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VDP.GROSSE GEWÄCHE® tasting

VDP.GROSSE GEWÄCHE® tasting

This was the first time that the VDP organisation had presented this tasting outside Germany. One hundred and twenty-five of Germany’s top dry wines were presented, divided into 25 different flights. Reaction to the format, whereby individual, seated tasters can select exactly which flights they would like to taste, was universally positive: one taster was delighted by the “concentrated and uninterrupted focus” afforded by this format and another called the “organisation flawless”. All were most grateful to the VDP for providing this wonderful tasting opportunity – over 70 people attended the event, including importers, merchants, sommeliers and press.

All tasters found much to like and admire. Most of the wines were from the 2018 vintage (whites) or 2017 vintage (reds), but the presence of one or two other vintages provided useful comparison. Mosel was the region most often highlighted as excelling, closely followed by Nahe and Rheingau. Not surprisingly, Riesling received high praise, but there were also highly positive comments about the other grapes presented, including Sylvaner, Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder, Spätburgunder and Lemberger. Over and again, tasters commented enthusiastically on the privilege of being able to compare the same grape not only from different regions but also from different, often neighbouring sites. As one participant stated, “Burgundy is often touted as being the place one thinks of as terroir focussed, however it seems Germany is king of terroir!”

Not surprisingly given the number of MWs and MW students attending, there were critical notes too. Amongst the whites, the main topic of debate was the level of reduction in some of the wines, what the producers often call “sponti”. Some tasters were clearly in favour whereas others saw it as an obstacle to expression of site personality. Certainly, as with so many of wine’s stylistic quirks, some tasters have a greater tolerance for reduction than others. One taster commented on the varying levels of ripeness and botrytis on the wines and concluded, whilst admitting to misquoting Ecclesiastes: “To every Riesling there is a season: a time for crystalline citric purity, and a time for luscious peachy richness.”

All tasters commented favourably on the “world-class” Spätburgunders, with some stunning examples from Baden, Franken and Württemberg. The only reservation here was the level of oaking, with some finding it too intrusive on certain wines. Mind you, these are still young wines.

It was impressive to see that three VDP producers had come over to support the event, one of whom (Carl Von Schubert from the Maximin Grünhaus estate) eagerly took the opportunity to join the tasting. Thanks too to Steffen Christmann, President of the VDP, for hosting an evening reception for MWs and other guests. Overall, an extremely well received tasting which all would very much like to see become a more regular, even annual event.

Richard Bampfield MW

 

Follow this link to read Richard’s VDP tasting article on The Buyer

21 Club Lunch

21 Club Lunch

Twenty six MWs were joined by Rufus Olins (IMW Executive Director) for the seventh MW 21 Club Lunch held at The Oxford & Cambridge Club in Pall Mall. Fortunately the first day of the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations did not prevent anyone from attending and the gathering started with Bollinger Special Cuvée. A starter of salt-baked beetroot and peppered goats cheese was followed by roast rump of spring lamb with crispy sweetbreads and a summer fruit pavlova.

Elizabeth Gabay MW flying in from Italy, Rose Murray Brown MW by train from Scotland and Barbara Abraham MW from the 1998 vintage joined us for their inaugural lunch. We were very sorry that neither of the stalwarts from the 1950s, namely Colin Anderson MW and David Burns MW, were able to participate this year. In fact, there were no representatives either from the 1960s, so the most senior MW present was Philip Goodband MW from 1970 who headed a group of nine MWs from the 1970s. Numbers were completed by five from the 1980s and 12 in total from the 1990s.

Refreshingly a number of German Rieslings were brought this year, with Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese represented in vintages from 2009 back to 1990. As a foil to White Burgundy, Mark Savage had brought an unusual Vickers Vineyard Idaho Chardonnay 2014, but the star was Meursault Blagny 2011 from Louis Jadot; sadly I did not have the opportunity to taste the Moldovan Chardonnay 2007.

The reds were a more diverse bunch than usual. Claret was represented by Ch Giscours 1974, Ch Haut Bages Liberal 1990, Ch Lagrange 1995, Ch Gloria 2006, Ch d’Angludet 2010 and Pagodes de Cos 2014. An interesting comparison was made with Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon from China which had won a Gold Medal at the IWC and with Te Mata Coleraine 2007. Fewer Italian this year but two really spectacular wines, a 1966 Chianti Riserva from Badia e Coltibuono and a magnum of Allegrini’s La Poja 2004; and an excellent Pinot Noir from Louis Jadot, Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru Les Baudes 2012.

Finally, two exceptional fortified wines. D’Oliveiras Reserva Terrantez 1977 and Cockburn’s 1963.

John Casson MW

Trentodoc MW trip

Trentodoc MW trip

Organised by the excellent team at the Istituto Trento DOC, led by Sabrina Schench, seven MWs from various parts of the world; Singapore, Australia, the USA, France and the UK, and accompanied by Kara Tonitto the marketing and communications officer at the IMW, took part in the most informative five-day visit.

For most if not all those attending Trentodoc was known only from its reasonably well known and distributed sparkling wine from Ferrari. So it was incredibly valuable to be able to understand and visit the various climatic and altitudinal diverse areas of the region, to meet a great cross section of producers from the long established Co-Ops to the various family owned and controlled wine producers. We were also exposed to some of the fascinating and seminal academic studies at the Fondazione Edmund Mach University.

The group’s overall impression was of a passionate wine region making, almost without exception, fine sparkling wines, with variety and interest. The three most interesting factors differentiating these wines from other fine sparking wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and occasionally Pinot Bianco including Champagne and Franciacorta, was the effect of altitude from the Lake Garda sites at around 200 metres above sea level, right up to the highest vineyards at 700 metres. These high-altitude wines whilst in no way unripe have a freshness and precision due to wide diurnal temperatures.

The second point of unique interest centred around the blends, where at first the impression was that 100% chardonnay gave the most classy results, but as we visited other producers the use of Pinot Noir and Meunier showed what could be achieved.

Thirdly, there was much discussion around ‘dosage’, which ranged from zero, fashionable amongst many producers, with most around the 4 to 5 grams per litre residual, and up to 8 gms/lt. Of interest was the use of old reserve wines as a base for the liqueur.

Day one of the visit started at one of the biggest of the ten Co-Operatives in Trentino, Cavit, whose brand is Altemasi. Started in the 1970s when Method Classico began they now control 5,000 hectares and 4,500 growers. With such small average vineyard holdings, it is unsurprising that the Co-Ops are a most important feature of the region’s production.

Following a tasting of wines from the sub-regions of Trentino broadly defined by altitude and then their own wines, they gave a most informative overview of Cavit’s integrated vineyard tracking project called PICA. Essentially this is a technological platform to measure weather, with 258 weather stations, detailed soil analyses, daylight hours and sun exposure. They went on to demonstrate how the data informed their agronomic practices and production chain.

That evening followed with a fascinating tasting with Cesarini Sforza demonstrating the use of old reserve wines in producing the cuvee de tirage and liqueur d’expedition, and how this use varies depending upon the site of production.

Day two started at 8am with a walk around tasting of 110 Trentodoc wines from most of the region’s producers. Whilst we had nearly three hours to taste everything, inevitably it was interesting (and polite) to be able to speak with some of the producers who were there. Some of the team, including myself, fell short by a few wines, of tasting everything before our next appointment.

This was a most valuable exercise in our being able to get a real overview of the region and the differences in vineyard sites, production styles and methods, and to meet a lot of wine makers and owners.

That afternoon we drove up to the high Cembra Valley to visit the vineyards and discuss the efficacy of high pergola training versus the now more fashionable Guyot, and also vine density and yields.

Then down into the Adige Valley to the most impressive Edmund Mach Wine School, where Professor Fulvio Mattivi gave a very clear and succinct explanation of a major study to comprehensively map the volatile compounds in Trentodoc sparkling wines. Of 969 traceable aromatic compounds, when compared to other sparkling wines there are 196 unique biomarkers more than other wines. He identifies this as being a factor of some of the most high altitude vineyards. This research in tracking and identifying flavour compounds was shown to have considerable value to the wine world as a whole. He is still to do the comparison exercise with a range of top Champagnes but promised that it was on his agenda.

The visit to the University concluded with a fascinating tasting of mature vintages from different Houses, from 2006 back to 1998, which showed well the good ageing potential for Trentodoc sparkling wines.

Day three started with an early morning tasting at the impressive Moser winery, who specialise in 100% chardonnay wines, starting with the 2019 base wines from tank from each of the main areas from where they own vineyards or source grapes. There was some distraction before the tasting started, from the incredible collection of some 30 racing bicycles owned by Francesco Moser who achieved a world speed cycling record in 1984. Following the valuable base wine tasting, we then tasted three vintages of their top cuvee 51,151 Brut, disgorged in 2019, 2014 and 2011, to demonstrate the final blend and how it ages over time.

The morning continued with a visit to the stylish Endrizzi family, higher up the Adige valley, with vineyards at 300 to 420 metres on calcareous and Dolomic soils. A tasting of the Riserva wines from their two prime vineyards Piancastello and Massetto  both planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, from the 2014, 2009 and 2008 vintages gave a valuable overview of their wines, the use of yeast selection for secondary fermentation and their relatively high levels of dosage which was balance by the good acidity.

The morning ended at the largest and very impressive Co-Op, Rotari, where we were entertained by the effusive head winemaker Lucio Matricardi and tasted a range of sparkling wines from different sites. His aim is to retain good ripe fruit in his wines so that they have sound commercial appeal. There was a good discussion about zero dosage, and he eventually produced a bottle that he makes which was very respectable. He also showed us, at our insistence, an example of his Pinot Grigio, where they are one of the biggest producers under many well know brand names, and which he slightly admitted that the huge volume paid most of the bills!

That evening we visited the Ferrari Lunelli wine cellars just south of Trento. This large family owned producer was impressive for its ability to produce a good quantity of wine (some 20 million bottles on lees in their cellars) and maintain a seem-less high quality of well-balanced interesting fine sparkling wines. To a large degree the group all felt that Ferrari had been around long enough to have found a level of perfection, and that they form something of a ‘benchmark’ for the whole region. In addition to the excellent tour, tasting, visit to the historic 16th century palazzo Villa Margo and the excellent Michelin starred restaurant Locanda Margon which the Lunelli family also own, this was certainly a highlight of the visit, and particularly the memorable magnum of 1991 Giulio Ferrari Riserva Del Fondatore, which was remarkable for its youth, complexity and sheer class.

Day four morning took us into the hills behind Trento to the family business of Maso Martis. After an interesting vineyard tour, we tasted their 2019 base wines from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay fermented in oak and stainless steel, followed by their finished blends from 2008 and 2009. A delightful view over the valley below from their tasting room together with the charm of our hosts and their nice dog, made it a delightful tasting.

On the last day we were treated to a journey up into the Dolomites, to the wonderful QC Terme spa, and an overnight stay in the mountains at delightful Refugio Fuciade with excellent cooking and a great selection to drink of Trentodoc sparkling wines, to see how at 2000 metres altitude did it make tasting different?!

The trip was extremely professionally organised with great care to be highly informative and also meet or surpass everyone’s expectations. The people we met were charming and hospitable and prepared to answer numerous questions and accept comments and observations in good spirit as they were meant. Trentodoc deserves to progress and be acclaimed as one of the world’s top sparkling wines, and I hope our visit and ambassadorship will go someway to help.

Christopher Burr MW

Greece MW trip

Greece MW trip

The Mainland

Grapes and wines

The work being done on savatiano is interesting. It will never be a great grape variety, but it is potentially good, and some interesting examples were tasted. It can also age neatly in the mid-term, rather like Hunter Valley semillon but without the high acid and with a bit more alcohol. Malagousia is also capable of making very attractive, easy drinking, wines. Assyrtiko offers good acidity – but rarely gains the focus it achieves on Santorini. It can be useful blending material, however, to add a bit of structure to other grapes.
A number of us were clear that xynomavro is the important red grape of the mainland and should be promoted a lot more. I was slightly more hesitant; many producers seem to me to be exploring how to handle the acid and tannin, and I think more work needs to be done on this. But the best were very attractive indeed. Agiorgitiko, on the other hand, is very much a work in progress, and a few of us felt that it often has to support too much oak for its style – the true fruit of the grape is lost. They may also be over extracted, with tannin out of balance with the medium-body of the wine. The best examples were lovely with precise damson and griotte fruit.

One of the most exciting discoveries was unknown or unexpected grapes making interesting and often gorgeous wines. A gewürztraminer from Evia of all places. Preknadi (the ‘freckled grape’ – a great marketing line there) with weighty stone fruit character. Moutara from Thebes, and the lovely cherry and plum aromas of the red grape vlahiko, with overt acid and light weight.

Crete

This was another unexpected discovery. I think many of us had been looking forward to Crete, but with limited expectations for the wines. But across the board the wines were generally cleanly made, with quite precise fruit characters. They may not have been profound but were often enjoyable. But the other very impressive aspect of the island was the way that the wine industry organised itself. This was the most surprising of the three parts of the trip.

Grapes and wines

Here it was the red wines which were the most striking, and particularly those made from liatiko, which many of us fell in love with. For me it was a bit reminiscent of cinsault (which is not a criticism, having already had this year very good examples of wines made from that grape in both Lebanon and South Africa). Mid-weight, medium tannins but a touch drying on the finish. Sometimes a touch (welcome) acidity and good red fruit characters. Kotsifali, on the other hand – the other leading indigenous variety, doesn’t seem to have the same breeding. It can add colour and tannin – but often too much of the latter. Southern French red varieties did work well here, though, grenache especially.

The main white – many were suggesting us the leading variety of the island – is vidiano. Some soft stone fruit characterised the best, and a bit of body, but the wines often lacked focus or direction. Assyrtiko was quite widespread; as on the mainland it had good acid but lacked the pure and complex varietal fruit from Santorini. For what it’s worth my view is that the best future for a distinctive white on the island could be a blend – ‘Cretan Classic White’ (ha ha), with vidiano dominant but a good tranche of assyrtiko for structure. And a word for the unique aromas of the variety dafni. More on that particular wine can be found on my blog for those who are interested.

Territorial branding

What was apparent as soon as we arrived was that the producers on Crete have collectively got their act together: they seem cohesive, with clear purpose, a willingness to work with each other and a well-delineated image and identity. We were told a few times that it was in 2006 that they decided they had to work together if they were to drag Cretan wine into the modern world, and collectively construct a plan to do this. There is a wine route and developing wine tourism. They need to develop some identifiable icon wine styles (see the previous section) but they seem aware of this and are willing to explore possibilities. Interestingly they seemed to accept that the success of each depends on the success of all with the implication that they should sink their differences in pursuit of common goals. Good luck to them – they deserve it.

Santorini

Many of us probably anticipated that this would be the real highlight of the trip and it didn’t disappoint. It showed the consistency (and more) of Crete combined with the fact that for some time now the producers have known what their icon is and have been honing how to produce assyrtiko. We had a particularly focused discussion on the wines here (and also on market structure and image) so here are some key points of our debate:

  • It was clear to us that there are internal issues, particularly in the value chain – focusing on grape pricing and supply. The price of a kilo has risen from 1€ to 5€ over about eight years. This is necessary in one sense to keep growers in production (and to avoid them selling their land for development) but it’s pushing the price of wine up dramatically. In some ways the grower producer relationship here reflects the same relationship at times in the past in Champagne.
  • Producers also want to cash in on the increasing reputation of the wines. This, with the previous point, is pushing some wine prices way above 30€ a bottle, and on to 50, 60, even 80+ euros. Can the wine style sustain this? Do the wines offer the complexity to make it worth paying so much? Here we disagreed. Some, including me, felt that 20-30€ for good Santorini assyrtiko was good value; higher than that and the value was becoming a bit more questionable. (And it should be added that oaking the wine is not a good reason for adding to the price – especially if the oak is heavy handed). Others were clear that the wines are worth everything asked for them – and some would be good value at 100€. Maybe – but that is the view of the wine expert. I wonder if the typical consumer of these wines (who is already probably highly involved with wine) would agree, especially if you can get (say) good premier or grand cru chablis for less.
  • A lot of the wines we tasted were older styles. A few of us loved these, but some said that, while the wines didn’t oxidise, they were not interesting enough to age for longer than maybe seven to eight years; the ideal age seems to be about two to four years, when the wines have settled a bit but retain their youthful vivacity and austere bite.
  • Meanwhile, there may be problems in the vineyards.We saw one long-term and experienced grower (with a fascinating demonstration of pruning) who lamented that only about ten growers on the island still knew how to prune properly. As grape prices go up production is actually going down, and with more producers looking to buy land and grapes there will be further pressure on supply. This is complicated by the fact that growers are unwilling to commit to long term contracts with producers, making production planning hazardous. One speaker suggested to us (with a carefully constructed and presented argument) that Santorini wines are actually likely to die out in about 20 years.

Overall

What can Greek wine do to prosper? They have one world renowned style, some good possibilities bubbling under and an enthusiastic and dynamic assortment of producers. How can they capitalise on this?

  • There was a debate about using international varieties to capture the attention of foreign markets and then win them over to trying wines made from indigenous varieties. Give people something they can understand first. I’m not so sure. However, the point was made that in many parts of the country syrah particularly does seem to be a ‘soothing’ variety, especially in Crete.
  • In marketing they have to sell the experience and sell a (collective) story. The Cretans are doing well at this as do producers of Santorini. The whole nation needs to learn from them. Tourism, one of us said, is an ‘amazing gift’ – as is Greek cuisine. Why not make an effort to get a couple of good wines into every Greek restaurant in key target markets? Taina Vilkuna MW said, to much applause that this is “the new old world”.
  • Labelling needs rapid attention. Ok, the names can be confusing, but it is worse when they are all spelt differently.
  • They still have a way to go to overcome the international association with retsina.
  • Many of us approved of the way that producers were wanting to push boundaries: new techniques, older grapes, creative blends.

This report is based primarily on my observations during the trip and discussions with other MWs while we were moving around. However, we had a debriefing session at the very end, and I’ve taken account of what members said then as well. It is thus part personal, part a reflection of other viewpoints.

Steve Charters MW