It was back in April when Bernard asked John and I to meet for a quick tasting because Elena Sottimano was in town. Several decades ago her father Rino Sottimano began his nebbiolo journey with just a few hectares but those precious blocks were in the Cottá Cru. It suffices to say that it was more than luck but also the Piemontese version of land meeting human intervention that have brought these wines to the pinnacle they are found to be at today.
Sottimano is the 18 hectare, Neive in Barbaresco project of Rino Sottimano, his wife Anna and children, Andrea and Elena. These are some of the most human, understood, necessary, gratifying and satisfying Piemontese wines you are ever going to taste. They make you think, smile, wink, cry and sigh. They speak of the vineyard and how properly they are treated. The nebbioli get under your skin, teach you what you need to know and tell you that everything is alright. They are good friends, therapists and if need be, they can be festaioli.
Elena led us through delightful dolcetto, ante-brooding barbera, worth twice the price Langhe and then six Barbaresco from four outstanding Cru; Pajoré, Fausoni, Cottà and Currá. Thanks to Le Sommelier, Sottimano’s Ontario agent and Taverna Mercatto, for hosting. Here are my notes on the nine wines.
From a vintage certified as classical for a modern and grounded dolcetto style in the vein of 2004 and 2010. This from the first vineyard planted by Elena’s father in 1975 and 41 years later turns out a purity of fruit for one of the most important modern vintages in Piemonte. Warm days, cold nights, easy and simple work in the winery, so overall just perfect conditions. Simply put this is found to be rich, salty, fresh and bright. Bric del Salto is a fantasy name, the “jump or peak of the hill,” made up for this combing of three vineyards. It’s curative, made ideal with hard crumbly cheese and a bowl of red sauce pasta plus a slice of pizza. And this bottle. Rendered only in stainless steel, fresh and perfect. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted April 2018 az.agr.sottimanoElenaSottimano@AzAgrSottimano@LeSommelierWine@AziendaAgricolaSottimanoElena Sottimano@LeSommelierWine</
Barbera’s is a similar vinification, 25 days like Barbareso, a long maceration, bringing the magical, natural cure and understated barbera skin affection. Sees a small (10) per cent of new French wood plus second, third and fourth passage barrels, eight to 10 months sur lie and natural malolactic. There is nothing so wound, tart, tang and gently sour like this, in fact it’s perfect for barbera. Red fruit perfect, no darkness and no brooding. Vines are in San Cristoforo and Basarin, on sandy clay soil, keeping it mineral, salty, long and ultimately classic. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted April 2018
Langhe Nebbiolo is from the Basarin Vineyard, not used for single-vineyard Barbaresco because the vines are only 15-20 years old, planted in 2000. It is aged for one year in oak, eight to 10 months sur lie. Elena Sottimano admits that perhaps their fruit will be committed to Basarin as they age, but for now they are separated or if you will, de-classified. There is a cool, mentholated streak running through, with a particular spice and though it used to be 25 per cent new barrel, starting in 2015, it’s a mere 10 per cent new. The lees is so apparent, in texture but also in the way the wine knows itself from birth and doesn’t need time to announce who and what it is. Chalky and tannic in a greater ionic way, prosodic of two short followed by two long syllables, architectural in the way nebbiolo must be. At this price and labeled Langhe this from Sottimano slings more pleasure and as much structure as at least half af all Barbaresco twice its cost. Drink 2019-2022. Tasted April 2018
John Szabo M.S. and Elena Sottimano at Tavrena Mercatto
Pajoré materializes off pure limestone soil at a hovering 380m of altitude. It’s really just a name this Cru, dialectical, as is its nebbiolo. Sees two years in 220L barrels made by François Frères, La Tonnellerie who receive a sample of your wines before deciding what barrels to send, if any. Time on lees is 20 months and there is no racking. This is pure nebbiolo in requiem of zero to next to no sulphur. It gets neither more natural nor more understated and exacting as this. The wine knows itself like a great human perfectly comfortable in its own skin and it might live to 2040 without experiencing one single moment of stress. It is truly a remarkable condition of the human meeting vine equating to wine spirit. Pajoré is a Cru worthy of a word to describe what you would get by combining ambiente with intervento umano. As in Climat, but Italian. Tannins are as formidable and elegant as there can dialectically be. Drink 2021-2035. Tasted April 2018
Fausoni is a small one point five hectare plot of sand and clay only six kilometres away from Pajoré. The vines range in age from 50 to 70 years old and there is certainly more depth and richness though contrastively speaking, more freshness and open aromatic perfume. There is also a verdant note and then this taut fixture of body and architecture in structure through the overall feeling. Deeper and more pressing, an antithetical nebbiolo, intense and perhaps not what you would expect. Likely a matter of sub-strata, of mystery and enigma. Pajoré just seems to intuit its character while Fausoni will need to feel, shift and oscillate its way through life. As with Pajoré the wood is retrofitted by La Tonnellerie François Frères, surfeiting Fausoni for a life more passionate and hard-lived if not quite as calm and relaxing as the one enjoyed by Pajoré. Top quality nebbiolo irregardless of style or fashion. Drink 2019-2032. Tasted April 2018
Cottá Azienda Agricola Sottimano cru spoiled by Elena Sottimano and Le Sommelier, Wine Agency ~ going vertical with Barbaresco and John Szabo — at Taverna Mercatto.
From the two point eight hectare vineyard with 45 year-old vines, Cottà receives the same élévage as Pajoré and Fausoni, on skins for 25 days and in Tonnellerie François Frères for 24 months. Fifteen per cent are new and the remainder of the barrels have been used up to four times. It’s like a combination of the other Cru, their best of both worlds in symbiosis, deep and exacting, comfortable and with a structure that never quits or breaks down. It’s unrelenting, with aromatic exoticism, power, precision, more fragrance and balance. The tannic building blocks are exceptional, verging into unparalleled. Drink 2022-2045. Tasted April 2018
A confounding vintage for thinking about drinking in 2018 because it is simply too young but there can be no discounting the acumen of restraint and the wisdom imparted. This from a Cru that knows full well what it will give. The 1970s planted vines add up to a shade under three hectares, southwest facing, in delivery of energetic red fruit, sweet herbs and that always present Sottimano cure. Cottà is the estate’s great constant, with the most layers needing to be husked for its kernels of wisdom and pearls of pulchritude to be revealed. Patience will be your virtue if you can just wait for the reward. Drink 2021-2033. Tasted April 2018
While tasting through Pajoré, Fausoni, Currá and a mini-vertical of Cottá with Elena Sottimano it is here for the first time that some development appears in a wine. This glimpse into what might happen with their Barbaresco may only be a minor crack in the oasis but it begins to fall away from the curative, tannic intensity into something stretching its limbs towards the ethereal. I can ruminate with this nebbiolo swirling around in my mouth while I wonder how far along we are or have come. But it comes with knowing that no matter how much distance we walk there is still a marathon to run. There is this perfect wonderwall of wild cherry spinning like vinyl liqueur over the cheeks, tongue and gums, refreshing and working its magical fruit dance up to the edges of my nerves. “I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me. And after all,” you’re Sottimano. Drink 2019-2035. Tasted April 2018
Only 200 bottles produced from this single hectare Cru of vines edging beyond 55 years-old. The vinification process mimics that of Pajoré, Fausoni and Cottà but Currá remains in bottle for an additional six months because it is special and asks for this. There is humour in that minor extension because opening this Cru from such a recent vintage any earlier than seven or eight years into its life will deprive you of its magic and potential charms. The smell of the sea is in Currá, fossil shells briny and salty, certainly mineral. It’s measurable, quantifiable and verifiable. It’s there in the taste. The reaction is more than one of epiphany, it’s a revelation. No, in fact it’s more than that. If for a moment it is explainable it then moves on and flees, remaining out of grasp. Damn you Currá. Drink 2021-2045. Tasted April 2018
Why is godello so pleased? #grenache @Wine_Australia @vintageMD and @Caplansky that’s why.
Mark Davidson, that’s why. We taste Australian wines with thanks to the intrepid Wine Australia ambassador, traveller and purveyor of everything you could ever want to know about that country’s wine scene. Davidson passes through our Toronto parts on manifold missions each calendar year and graces our collective wine writer-meets sommelier soul with non bottle-o Aussie bounty, not oft tasted before. In mutual abide our local agents are always willing to throw some gems into Mark’s mix and our finest restos lay out the food-matching compliments to accede the most excellent of wine tasting gatherings.
The last three sessions took place in June 2018, February 2018 and September 2017. For that September get together we convened at Caplansky’s Deli for a Smoked Meat and Grenache Lunch. “Pastrami to me smells like grenache,” says Davidson in candid equation. “Drink some and eat some meat.” In 2015 there were 1500 hectares of the varietal under vine, this compared to 44,000 of shiraz. On its agriculture in Australia he added “if you leave it untended it will go blowsy and slutty.” What about wood? “I don’t think new oak works with grenache. It dominates it.” These are my notes on the eight wines.
Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $19.95, WineAlign)
There is nothing here to raise an eyebrow’s moment of a suspicious mind. What you taste is what you get. Pure grenache. Tangy and spicy, fresh and walking with an easy stride. The youngest vineyard is from 1972 so that explains the confidence and yes, you can call this old vine, said with a wry smile. Really smart and teachable wine. When it comes to grenache, “we can’t build our dreams, on suspicious minds.” Drink 2017-2020. Tasted September 2017 @yalumbawinebreakthrubevcanada@yalumba@BreakthruBevyalumbawine@BreakthruBeverageCanada
Alpha Box & Dice Grenache Tarot 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $24.99, WineAlign)
Lighter style by way of a McLaren Vale mentality. Perhaps like somebody that I used to know the “death card” is a resurrective grenache to “chuck in the fridge and drink it,” as per the suggestion of Dylan Fairweather. But it’s really something else, comforting, helpful. Like Gotye, “a friendly face will bring you around and you’ll feel better.” This is a solidly pressed grenache with some cured, curative meaty notes, just where the varietal tendency should lead. “Better than before.” Drink 2017-2019. Tasted September 2017 alphaboxdiceawsmwest@AlphaBoxDice@AuthenticWineON@alphaboxdice@awsmon
d’Arenberg The Custodian Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (713040, $19.95, WineAlign)
This grenache may straight out remind “but what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.” Place, name and grape all combine for notoriety, perhaps controversy but certainly greatness. The iconic house of d’Arenberg is the grenache custodian for McLaren Vale, the keeper of nearly one third of the region’s varietal vines. The process includes foot-treading, which does not make it old school as much as it presses the idea that human intervention is very much a part of the wine. The basket press adds to the beggar’s banquet gentility of the Custodian’s mystery, a deeply satisfying grenache of wealth and place. This is the juiciest of juicy grenache vintages, perfectly tart and sweet like candy for the soul. At four years of age the balance is struck and the evolution just right for current enjoyment. A rolling stone that will stand the test of time, one plus one bottle at a time. Drink 2017-2021. Tasted August and September 2017 darenbergwinechurchillcellars@darenbergwine@imbibersreport@darenbergwine@imbibersreport
Chapel Hill Bush Vine Grenache 2014, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.95, WineAlign)
Showing more than a major amount of fruit than most in a flight of eight grenache. Creamy, full of textured elements, tart and graced by a ying-yang of tenebrous-generous tannins. The ripeness is run through raised and chalky, like a mineral feel, searing at moments but mostly in a just so it happens or it happened way. Plenty of joy, curiosity and obfuscation. Give it a year or more to continue finding its course. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted September 2017 chapelhillwinechartonhobbs@chapelhillwine@ChartonHobbs@ChapelHillWine
Kilikanoon Prodigal Grenache 2013, Clare Valley, South Australia (482547, $20.95, WineAlign)
The fruit works well with the soil, sharing equal time in the sandbox and the acidity takes time to unfold but when it does, it comes smiling candid and sweet. A fine grenache and typically Clare Valley, perhaps more than what it offers in terms of varietal representation. Otherwise unexciting meaning easy to like and consume. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted February 2017
Oldest #grenache vines in Australia is one thing, über religiously delicious @cirillo1850wine juice another #barossavalley #ancestorvines
Cirillo 1850s Grenache 2011, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $69.00, WineAlign)
Australia’s oldest grenache vines provide the setting, architecture and unfathomable bestowal for a singular standard of grenache. So what does it all mean? First there is the lighter, cooler vintage setting the stage for this queued up, cued slice of Barossa history. In most respects this is grenache prone to and prepared for drought vintages, preserving a guarantee of tannic structure. Sure, it may be seen as well beyond perhaps but six years forward offers more than enough information and explanation. This is simply beautiful, just and enlightening. Flowing, plum ripe, melting, liquorice, smack piquant, mellowing and so bloody cool. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017 cirilloestatewinesbokkewines@Cirillo1850wine@bokkewinesCirillo 1850 EstateMarco Cirillo@BokkeInc
Jauma Grenache Gramp Ant 2015, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $54.95, WineAlign)
This one’s for their kids’ grandfather, Grandpa Antony, a grenache sourced from the best corners of their McLaren Vale Foreman block and Blewitt Springs Genovese Vineyard. The James Erskine and Fiona Wood “keep me satisfied, please keep me calm, keep me pacified” grenache. Renders sulphur and volatility into must with magic and preservation. Old plantings (to the 1970s) offer the prospect of a whole cluster, 40 days on skins raising. It smells and tastes like the scrapings and peelings of plums, peaches, apples, cherry and cranberry. The concentration factor is spiked by anise and tonic bitters, working out the kinks and comfortably leaving an aftertaste of pure finessed liqueur. There is no question in my mind that of the two, Gramp Ant is not merely superior to Like Raindrops but is so much more fun to drink. From thirst to appetite. “Sitting by the riverside.” Drink 2019-2025. Tasted September 2017 jaumawinesthelivingvine@JaumaWines@TheLivingVineJames Danby ErskineThe Living Vine inc.
Ochota Barrels The Fugazi Vineyard Grenache 2014, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)
A different look for Australian reds and connective with Tool’s James Maynard Keenan but if Post-Punk, Prog-Rock grenache is what you’re after than this Tolken Silmarillion Fugazi is the one for you. Its fruit spent 80 days on skins and the resulting whole bunch umami resides in an MDMA-Ecstasy-Fugazi realm. Clean, pure and of a transparency that speaks to the realism of the dream. It’s bloody juicy and anything but messed up beyond recognition. In fact it speaks to the opposite of the nomenclature. “Do you realize, this world is totally fugazi?” Great wines like these are the head, the voice and the heart. Maybe even the prophet, the visionary, the poet and the sentimental mercenary. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017 ochotabarrelsthelivingvine#OchotaBarrels@TheLivingVine@Ochota BarrelsThe Living Vine inc.
In February 2018 Mark hosted a tasting of 12 (mostly) alternative varietals at George Brown College. It began with the Clare Valley, once a massive mountain range, now an extension of the loft mountain ranges and just shy of a great outback. It’s an amazing micro-climate with huge diurnal temperature changes, It can be 40 degrees during the day in peak growing season and five at night. “There is dew and there is this revival process that happens with riesling.” Here are the notes.
There are seminars and there are elucidative @vintageMD seminars. The oracle of @wine_australia has been illuminated
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2017, Clare Valley, South Australia (SAQ 10956022, $50.00, WineAlign)
Grosset’s riesling at Polish Hill Vineyard was planted in 1981, young for Australia, on limestone, shale and clay, underneath of which is 10,000,000 year-old blue slate. Austere when young, usually, it’s fleshier and more floral than limey but as always, it acquiesces the crisp, clear and cut brilliance Jeffrey Grosset expects and suspects Clare Valley riesling just is, or at least must be. So the choice is yours, enjoy it now because it can be, wait on its sneaky persistence or wait 20 years after you’ve tired of imagining the possibilities. Wait at least five for the screwcap to loosen and the riesling to abide as if. It’s pretty clear this is a forbearer clarified by a crystalline vintage. Drink 2021-2036. Tasted February 2018 grossetwines@GrossetWines@GrossetWines
Pewsey Vale The Contours Old Vine Riesling 2012, Eden Valley, South Australia (Agent, $42.00, WineAlign)
Originally planted in 1847, passed through challenges, purchased by the Hill-Smith family and re-planted in 1961. This includes fruit from that original block, the “contoured site,” hence the name. Here five years on with some first developed character, with the airy, gassy (or Rose’s lime marmalade to an Australian ambassador), lemon-lime citrus spray ringing the inside of the glass. It’s a salty gas-powered riesling with innate Barossa ability to move forward with deceptive speed. This fin-slicing vapour trail of tonic and fine bitters is a personality I would gladly draught in for a bottle or more. One of the finest acidities of any wine on the planet. This is still the current release and that’s just perfect. Drink 2018-2027. Last tasted February 2018
From vines originally planted in 1847, here is Riesling worthy of the longest run on sentence. Riesling of conventional wisdom from a cold, windy, chilly place, pricked with holes, atomized infiltrations, queued with basic intent, wise, driven, young, gaseous, of concentrated rage, bone dry and no, it does not feign sweetness, even if the texture makes nefarious attempts at confusing the palate. A decade on this will blow your mind, if you let it. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted at the Langton’s Classification Seminar, February 2016 pewseyvalevineyardbreakthrubevcanada@PewseyVale@BreakthruBev@pewseyvalevineyard@pewseyvalevineyard@BreakthruBeverageCanada
Ochota Barrels Chardonnay The Stint Vineyard 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $57.95, WineAlign)
Chardonnay out of the Stint Vineyard is from Lenswood in the hills in surround of Adelaide, up to elevations of almost 600 metres. It’s really about site exposure, and undulations, but to be honest it does little at first to tell me that is noses as chardonnay because there is a layer of impregnable wax and forest wall. Impenetrable because it’s so verdant, equally distributable and obscured by clouds. Picked on acid, as in profile, not elevation, cloudy because of no filtration. Likely 20 year-old fruit and if you consider this as funk you’ve not quite been listening to the right beats. The funk will only get better. Ochota Barrels repping the Basket Range Collective with a side of Rolling Stones. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018 ochotabarrelsthelivingvine#OchotaBarrels@TheLivingVine@Ochota BarrelsThe Living Vine inc.
Murdoch Hill Artisan Sulky Blanc 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Winery, $62.95, WineAlign)
From winemaker Michael Downer the blend is riesling (50 per cent), sauvignon blanc (30) and pinot gris (20), left on skins, sent to barrel and also to tank. For an ambitious white it’s got remarkable entry-level gulpability. It’s an appellative blend built on acidity and so into the combinative texture. What you feel in the end is the alcohol, in a boozy warmth that hovers, broods and compresses climate like a rainforest village above the clouds. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018 murdochhill_wines@Murdoch_Hill@murdochhillwine
Angove Family Vineyards Shiraz-Grenache Warboys Vineyard 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (537209, $46.00, WineAlign)
No matter where you are in the throes of this blend there is a maritime influence and in a way, a Mediterranean-like feeling, with plum, black olive and brine. It’s saltier and more ferric than a Rhône syrah-grenache (plus likely one with mourvèdre) and it feels more like shiraz than grenache because of the grip, vintage-driven or not. Drink 2018-2022. Tasted February 2018 angovewinechurchillcellars@AngoveWine@imbibersreport@AngoveWine@imbibersreport
Henschke Henry’s Seven 2015, Barossa Valley, South Australia (685578, $42.95, WineAlign)
Shiraz is co-fermented with viognier, deciding the direction with holes and angles filled then lined by the grenache and the mataro. It’s floral, by flowers but also the leafiness that comes from raspberry and strawberry plants. Smells like fruit compost, sweet and savoury, Great acids and fine tannins. Really composed and grippy to delicious pile to be happy having consumed. Will be ideal in 18 months, give or take no time at all. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2018 henschkebreakthrubevcanada@henschkewine@BreakthruBev@HenschkeWine@BreakthruBeverageCanada
D’arenberg The Derelict Vineyard Grenache 2013, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $35.00, WineAlign)
If there is a juicier, riper or more gregarious nose on a grenache anywhere I’d like to know. Which is all the more surprising considering the level of grippy tannin that comes around to knock you upside the cerebral cortex. Fascinating wine, always and with perpetual craziness. The old derelict vineyard strikes again. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018 darenbergwinechurchillcellars@darenbergwine@imbibersreport@darenbergwine@imbibersreport
John Duval Wines Grenache Annexus 2016, Barossa Valley, South Australia (Agent, $85.00, WineAlign)
There is certainly less immediacy and perhaps generosity but in its taut aromatic quietude there is this dusty, savoury fennel feeling going on. It is very much a grenache expressed in a vein like pinot noir, then again not really, but there is a skin-rubbed, umami quality about how it develops in the glass. It’s both forceful and virile. Duval does grenache in Barossa like Pommard in the Beaune. Warm climate and litheness get together at a grenache crossroads for firm if wonderful balance. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted February 2018 johnduvalwinesbreakthrubevcanada@JohnDuvalWines@BreakthruBev@johnduvalwinesbarossa@BreakthruBeverageCanada
Delinquente Wine Company Vermentino Screaming Betty 2017, Riverland, South Australia (Agent, $20.00, WineAlign)
It’s by now safe to call vermentino an “emerging variety” for South Australia, here from Riverland off some of the 120 total hectares planted. You just know it’s vermentino but you also know it’s not grown along the Ligurian coast. It’s so bloody big, aromatically fruity and full of dry extract, wants to be savoury, but it’s more of a light charcoal sensation. That and an essential oil distilled through cookie dough, with white chocolate and peach. It’s tannic without being grippy and in the end, dry as the desert. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018 delinquentewinecobespokewineandspirits@BespokeWines@delinquentewinecoMatt Wolman
Paxton Graciano 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $26.99, WineAlign)
Rarely does an Australian red climb up to the tonal heights of this McLaren Vale graciano but there it is in the rare, aerified air, with red berries and their leaves. Steps into the Riverland, light, gives away this gulpable Kombucha in a flat out tart and quenching drink. Lovely at 11 per cent alcohol, high acidity and a pinch of residual sugar. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted February 2018 paxtonwinesnoble_estates@paxtonwines@Noble_Estates@PaxtonWines@NobleEstates
Brash Higgins Nero D’avola Amphora Project 2016, McLaren Vale, South Australia (Agent, $51.95, WineAlign)
Part of the amphoric project of Brad Hickey, raised in 200L amphorae, the volatility is but a whisper, way more calculated than careless. A full come about turn away from the previous Riverland Graciano this digs deep into the soil for a funky nero d’avola, far away from the caky Sicilian style and now under the auspices of perspiring glands. It’s not nearly as dense and intense you’d think it might be, nor is it so very varietally obvious, but it’s level of intrigue meeting with the need to get in my mouth is the stuff of lyrical innocence inspiration. Nero, nero on the wall, who’s the coolest Vale of all? Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2018 brashhigginsthelivingvine@BrashHiggins@TheLivingVine@BrashHigginsWineThe Living Vine inc.
Alpha Box & Dice Dolcetto Dead Winemaker’s Society 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $21.95, WineAlign)
The name refers to an industry drinking session where you bring a wine made by a winemaker no longer alive and who was influential on you. From two vineyards (Paddock and Christmas Hill), southeast facing, 50-50 pick, fermented separately, all in old oak (as opposed to the 50 per cent in stainless from 2015). A much fresher vintage so thus the decision making. Such a ripe and joyful dolcetto should be every winemaker’s dream and it shows where the area first settled by Italians this variety and others like it would have been in the ground from the get go. Sour cherry and pomegranate, currants and all things citrus, red and ripping gather for great light possibilities. Surprisingly dry and tannic at the finish. Really just a joy. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted February 2018 alphaboxdiceawsmwest@AlphaBoxDice@AuthenticWineON@alphaboxdice@awsmon
Vintage MD time ~ #pinotandporchetta @archive909 ~ welcome back Mark
In June of 2018 we connected with Mark once again, this time at Archive Wine Bar for pinot noir and porchetta. We travelled through eight from the 2015 and 2016 vintages.
Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2016, Yarra Valley, South Australia (Agent, $29.95, WineAlign)
Montalto Pinot Noir Pennon Hill 2016, Mornington Peninsula, Australia (Winery, $30.00, WineAlign)
Lifted, higher and higher, sitting on a plateau built upon an acid structure squeezed from red currants and bled from stone. Also a slight cured salumi note mixed with wet concrete. Great palate presence and persistence, repeatable, replaying phenolics purely currant and with more electric current from leafy savour. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted June 2018 montaltovineyardandolivegrove@montaltowine@montaltovineyard
Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2015, Tasmania, Australia (Agent, $49.95, WineAlign)
The Bindi Dixon Pinot Noir is based upon declassified grapes from the Original Vineyard planted in 1988 and grapes from the new Block K, planted in 2001. Crazy horse nose in the way that other varieties of the world will do, or at least try and simulate when they want to be pinot noir. Especially Italian varieties, like nerello mascalese, dolcetto, perricone and montepulciano. This is a natural leader for grape wishes like those of the lesser known. Very wise from the start, from birth, from creation with more savour and salumi then so many wannabe realists. There is a beautiful raw pasta dough note and then an exotica by fruit that isn’t really nameable. If this is the de-class from Michael Dhillon I’d like to meet the classified. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted June 2018 bindiwines@BindiwinesMichael Dhillon
Makers’ cool pinot noir warmth from regional @wineaustralia as explained by the man, @vintagemarkdavo
Wicks Estate Pinot Noir 2017, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)
Lovely balance from the word yes by Wicks in a straightforward pinot noir expression with no agenda and no ulterior motive. It’s very forward, outwardly fruity and if basic, so be it because it really works. Some elevation (450-500m) makes a difference, bringing lift and cool tones to the ripe, sweeter and weighty warmth of magnanimous fruit. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted June 2018 wicksestateazureau#wicksestate@azureau@wicksestate@azureauwinesandspirits
Yering Station Village Pinot Noir 2015, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia (552166, $24.95, WineAlign)
Lifted into appropriate levels of volatility and ripe acidity the balance is struck by wide-ranging Yarra Valley fruit layering away and tempering the tonic coming from the tannin. Big bones and spirit for so little is quite the combination. Last tasted May 2018
The Yarra Valley is pinot noir, for so many great reasons and Yering Station knows a thing or two about the connection. The brightness of acidity and tart cherry fruit meet with a sour edginess and sweet textural coverings to bring some sunshine to a dreary day. This is Victoria, cool and edgy in the grand scheme of Aussie reds but in the end, very true and correct for varietal and place. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted June 2018 yeringstationnoble_estates@yeringstn@Noble_Estates@YeringStation@NobleEstates
Woodside Park Pinot Noir 2016, Adelaide Hills, South Australia (47828, $20.95, WineAlign)
A rush of the juiciest Adelaide Hills pinot noir red fruit plays from the Woodside Park, a wine of breeze and potentially, so many memories. There is an early note of understanding, like a riff that reminds of childhood and in a way how wine knows how it will come to eventually be, even when its still so young. It’s this rustic, old world sensibility, with dried fruit, leathery to cedar forest feelings and a rustic cure. Drink 2017-2020. Tasted August 2017 and June 2018 #woodsideparknicholaspearcewines@Nicholaspearce_Nicholas Pearce
Ochota Barrels Pinot Noir Impeccable Disorder 2016, Piccadilly, South Australia (Agent, $99.95, WineAlign)
Impeccable disorder or as I like to call it conventional dysfunction. It’s a late picked pinot noir from one of winemaker Taras’ cooler sights, not so much a regional Piccadilly snapshot as much as realistic dystopian universality. Lifted volatility, pure orange juice and whole bunch pressing add up to wild rides through a flat earth. It’s like seeing things in 3D without glasses or drugs. It’s filmmaking in a glass and it tastes like pinot noir should, not as it does. Wrapped so tight, chewy, chalky and its own tonic-twisted, shaken and stirred cocktail in a glass. Drink 2020-2028. Tasted June 2018 ochotabarrelsthelivingvine#OchotaBarrels@TheLivingVineThe Living Vine inc.
Ending another epiphanic tasting day with Megan McLune of @domainejessiaume Beaune @vinsdebourgogne specialist at the gates of Santenay ~ #closduclosgenet #lacomme #lescentvignes
Back in February I ended another epiphanic tasting day, on this occasion with Directrice Megan McLune of Domaine Jessiaume, Beaune Vins de Bourgogne specialist located at the gates of Santenay. David Beauroy of DBINO Selections brought Megan to taste through Clos du Clos Genet (Villages), Premier Cru La Comme and Premier Cru Les Cent Vignes. Though this session was six months ago, there are still a few dozen bottles available in VINTAGES of these exceptional Santenay pinot noir. Here are my notes.
Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Clos Du Genet 2013, AOC Bourgogne, France (290394, $47.80, WineAlign)
Clos du Clos Genet is ostensibly a Villages wine, from a half hectare of vines in downtown Santenay. It’s a walled off parcel from the rest, a clos within the clos, a micro-terroir within a terroir. Here the slightly warmer, less exposed spot deals Bourgogne very much in a white limestone tone, a sweet and sparked white lightning. Red citrus is beautifully tart, elegant but firm and so structured. Clarities are so much better defined because of purity and specificity. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted February 2018
Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Premier Cru La Comme 2013, AOC Bourgogne, France (414978, $59.00, WineAlign)
La Comme sits above Gravières, up on what is essentially a plateau above the ridge, tiny even by Bourgogne standards, a 0.18ha plot of limestone, oolite and marl. La Comme is Santenay of more elegance and yet more structure, less punch and conversely a peppery finish that exceeds Gravières. There is a mountain tea aroma, layers that peel and the sweetness of candied roses. Length is outstanding, tethered by a cherry granite ribbon and lasting like a savoury Lola (Ontario childhood reference). So much variegation noted just by tasting a wine such as this, so close by to Gravières and yet Commes is so different. In fact you might wonder is it even the same grape? Drink 2019-2025. Tasted February 2018
Domaine Jessiaume Beaune Premier Cru Les Cent Vignes 2014, AOC Bourgogne, France (468884, $62.00, WineAlign)
Les Cent Vignes is one hectare from the bottom of the triangle in Beaune, of a history noted off of a 1251 Notre Dame de Beaune list. “It’s our biggest wine,” notes Directrice Megan McLune. Always comes out rich and dark, verging to a much darker cherry. There will be some whole cluster work starting in 2015 but ’14 didn’t need it because the fruit-acid balance was naturally spot on. From what were perfect vintage grapes, surely not a closed wine, there is a connection with La Comme in the salumi cure and hematic run. It’s a Jessiuame-ness, always with a slight peppery kick on the finish. Certain step up in quality from only six or seven barrels in ’14. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted February 2018
Ending another epiphanic tasting day with Megan McLune of @domainejessiaume Beaune @vinsdebourgogne specialist at the gates of Santenay ~ #closduclosgenet #lacomme #lescentvignes
Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College
Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell are tireless wanderers of this earth. When you consider the amount of time they spend travelling in support of one, their eponymous winery, two, their Hermanus friends and colleagues and three, Wines of South Africa, it’s amazing that they are able to find time to produce high quality wines. That they do with great consistency and though they are responsible for interpreting the Hemel-en-Aarde in three ways, in each case they do one or two things and they do it really well.
Hamilton Russell Vineyards works three appellations. The WO of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is a geological wonder akin to Burgundian soils of 35-50 per cent top soil clay layered with exposed shale, closest to Walker Bay. It is here that Anthony and Olive pioneered the raising of chardonnay and pinot noir. Ashbourne red and white blends are fashioned in the Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, on the eastern border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, built of decomposed granite, with freer draining soils and more diurnal temperature fluctuations then the Hemel en Aarde Ridge. The property is named after Anthony’s great, great-grandfather Lord Ashbourne who was Lord Chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800’s. Southern Right is the line of pinotage and sauvignon blanc raised on the western border of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, on a 448 hectare property just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus.
In 1991 Hamilton Russell was the only one producing wines. Now there are 22 in the valley. They began running in 1991 and made full purchase in 1994. A cold current rises up from Antartica into the tip of South Africa’s (Western Cape) “making quality winemaking possible,” explains Anthony. “Our soils have been on the surface for more than 300,000,000 years. I like that you can taste ancient soils in every glass.” Hamilton Russell is what he refers to as their “immediate family.” Southern Right and Ashbourne are close relatives.”
As for varietal choices, there is little doubt that pinotage is (once again) booming while others are dropping. The plantings are very much on the rise. “What people thought was pinotage was badly made pinotage. It’s not a bad grape,” insists Hamilton Russell. We like to control what’s happening on both borders of Hamilton Russell.” So Southern Right (1994) and Ashbourne (1996) are more than just passion projects. “We also want to change people’s perception of pinotage,” he adds. There were no releases between 2011 and 2014, instead it was used as a re-thinking period and a chance to reflect on vineyard/agricultural culture, followed by the new age. “I don’t have a beard, I’m in my 50’s (plus) and I’m doing some pretty hipster stuff. We just don’t look the part.”
I have had numerous opportunities to taste, track, re-taste and follow the chardonnay and pinot noir over the past five years. I often add to my notes because theirs are highly organized, Burgundian powered structures that demand re-visits and respect. The Ashbourne and especially the Southern Right varietals and blends have seen less exposure but the notions of longevity (Ashbourne) and drink-ability (Southern Right) are fast gaining attention.
A few weeks back and post i4C Cool Chardonnay conference I sat down with Wines of South Africa’s Laurel Keenan, Angela Aiello and the South African Wine Society to listen in on Anthony Hamilton Russell’s dissertation and a tasting of eight wines. Here are the notes, plus two for their recently released ’17 chardonnay and pinot noir.
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2016, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (512277, $21.95, WineAlign)
The Southern Right whale is a frequent visitor to Walker Bay and this sauvignon blanc should be a frequent visitor to your glass. It’s a white wine that acts as a messenger to its proximate location to a cold body of water. It’s a pure Western Cape fresh, flinty and smouldering sauvignon blanc so akin to a Bordeaux White. You could close your eyes and imagine Pessac-Leognan (perhaps even hoping for Sancerre or Chavignol) but there really isn’t any need. Six clones and six yeasts, multiple ripeness levels and some clay-grown vines deliver fat fruit to meet the linearity and tension of other shale grown fruit. In the end it’s a complex and rare chance to taste this kind of value. Drink 2018-2020. Last tasted July 2018
Southern Right Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $26.95, WineAlign)
Tasting ’15 while ’17 is already sold out back home. From an opulent and wide open vintage, the wine offers just those expressive attributes. Smokiness meets curative meaty notes and an umami sort of South African garrigue. From a vintage where phenolic ripeness occurred at a higher level of alcohol so it carries a 15 per cent volume, but does so with marked ease. Drink 2018-2021. Tasted July 2018
Hamilton Russell Ashbourne 2009, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)
The Ashbourne ’09 includes cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot and syrah blended in, “which brings nothing really to the party,” says Anthony Hamilton Russell, “but at least it doesn’t compete with Southern Right.” It’s deeply savoury and smoky, continues to smell like chocolate and will always show its wood. The single-vineyard heavy clay block was always in delivery of fruit ripe but never over that edge, all the while telling its shepherds when to pick so that balance and structure can be had. The linger and length are exceptional. “The variety doesn’t suck.” Truth that. Drink 2018-2024. Last tasted July 2018
Ashbourne is a 25 barrel cuvée and the outlier in the Hamilton Russell pinot noir-chardonnay stable. With more than enough time behind at eight years on it is essentially evolved and resolved, now a downy blanket of Bordeaux fibres woven, seamless and soft. The fruit dries a bit but like all great aging South African reds the candidly curated acidity is years from relinquishing its grip. Ashbourne is not a matter to blow one’s mind but it teaches some vinous life lessons about Hemel-en-Aarde and the greater good of aged South African reds. It can be enjoyed right now and left for another decade. Like Meerlust’s Rubicon it’s an easy on the pocketbook gift in kind to Ontario from proprietors Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell. Drink 2017-2024. Tasted October 2017
Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage 2015, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)
It could be expected that this 2015 pinotage blend would already act somewhat to quite advanced when in fact the evolution is virtually non-existent. A side-by-side revisit with 2009 is all that is needed to drive the point. The ’15 is still quite demurred, tightly wound, not in a fresh to reductive way but more in terms of its finely-crafted pyramids of Giza architecture. The acidity and the spice are up there on the crests of the upper steps, very near to the pinnacle. Again it is the way the wine stays with you like a slowly rendered demi-glacé made from the lightest roast of bones that keeps the karst of stone sublime in your mind and mouth. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted July 2018
Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Pinotage/Cinsault 2018, WO Swartland, South Africa (486167, $25.95, WineAlign)
“We wanted to work with an unoaked pinotage, to mix with a lighter and brighter cinsault.” In fact the cinsault really shines with (by now) classic Western Cape lithe ability because the pinotage allows it to. Add to that a verdant, pyrazine and currant streak and in the end you get perfume but no impenetrability that an overly green and wooded forest would demand. Beautiful (1972 planted) Paardeberg on decomposed granite gifts a chic and classy, perfectly correct blend of these two made for each other varietals. Will settle into one another so effortlessly and with sleepy grace in another year or so. Drink 2019-2024. Tasted July 2018
Hamilton Russell Ashbourne Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay 2018, WO Walker Bay, South Africa (Agent, $25.95, WineAlign)
There can be no more fruit in a white blend than what bursts from this sauvignon blanc-chardonnay scene. Just released in South Africa and carried by Anthony and Olive (Hamilton Russell) on the plane. Chavignol is the reference point, with lightly structured sandstone soils bringing lightness, airiness and delicate fruit. Or think Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat out of Santa Barbara. It’s democratically priced (a Hamilton Russell first) without gratuitous sugar and still dry, tart and direct. Also the first screw-cap for the company. Bottled just three weeks ago. Drink 2018-2020. Tasted July 2018
Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)
A Hamilton Russell chardonnay must have its nuts, butter and über direct acidity. It just may remind of Bâtard perhaps because depth, richness and a ridges-straddling connection to the valley it comes from all work in this way. But what else brings that connection? In 2017 it’s elegance for sure, but also intensity. This 36th vintage is “a reflection, always of the same piece of ground, even if we are always insecure and trying to improve, it’s a far bigger thing than we are. We feel justice to serve it. We feel we have a duty to this.” This is what Anthony Hamilton Russell told me last year and it perfectly applies to this 2017. Back then he noted that “god made the 15s and winemakers watched. In ’16 winemakers made the wine.” So what about ’17? With heady attention paid to its eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, it’s really a matter of both. Drink 2019-2026. Tasted twice, July 2018
Hamilton Russel Vineyard Chardonnay 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (931006, $44.95, WineAlign)
Says Anthony Hamilton Russell. “It took the French to teach me not to care about the colour of chardonnay, but to only worry about flavour and texture.” Fermented with a healthy amount of solids and introduced to oxidation in its youth. This helps and results in a chardonnay well-adjusted to adult life and to adults. “You cannot measure an aesthetic with a number,” meaning you can’t learn from a measured response. Literally speaking. The balance is as good as this archetype of an HR white has ever been. It is after all, the HR white. Last tasted July 2018
No stone is left unturned in the Hamilton Russell 2016 chardonnay because it speaks with utmost Hemel-en-Aarde Valley clarity. There is less make-up in 2016 so the fruit, acidity and subtle salty quality all must have begun to speak from the word go. The first pressed, non-clarified must would have done nothing but made the maker’s smile, mimicking a foggy morning over Walker Bay and so they have allowed the wine to speak for itself. This is a beautifully restrained and go it alone rendered to be measured chardonnay, with beauty and grace. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted September 2017
Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)
’m not sure it can be stated often enough that when you continually do one thing well, without compromise or mutation, than you’re more likely to do it very well. This is the case with a Hamilton Russell pinot noir, the only one that is produced. From the best fruit available and swinging in the direction of the vintage, either into or away from the winds of vineyard or winemaking. The 2017 is like the chardonnay in that it’s a best of both worlds seasonal and acumen-focused display, neither one or the other dominant and in the end, so balanced. The fruit depth is exceptional, the acidity deeper still and the intensity wound around it all. It’s so precise and layered, like a pinot noir prism, like staring far inside the intricate and symmetrically patterned angles in a diamond. Drink 2019-2028. Tasted July 2018
Hamilton Russel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016, WO Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa (999516, $58.95, WineAlign)
“We believe in wines of consequence.” How pinot noir is capable of performing in South Africa can be defined right here, with a wink and a nod to Gevrey-Chambertin. Pure unbridled Hamilton Russell cerebral joy, nothing taken for granted and all possibilities celebrated. Last tasted July 2018
This welcome ethereal return of Hamilton Russell’s Hermanus benchmark pinot noir follows on the heels of the early-picked, dense, muscular and compressed 2015. Comfortable alcohol meets optimum phenolic ripeness so lets think on it in terms of ’08 burgundy, though perhaps not as tight and classic. This is the second fully organic vintage, not certified but with no systemic use of chemicals. Young (just last year turned 30) winemaker Emul Ross from Chamonix and viticulturist Johan Montgomery have reverted to gentler pressing and travelled further away from hyper-reduction. Open fermenters handle the entire pinot noir harvest at once so there is nary a posit tug of war or movement at shock times. Thus the elegance and as mentioned, the ethereal. It should always be noted that all the HR grapes go into these wines, with no tactical moves and philosophical aberrations (any more), no reserve wines, no single-vineyard, no divergence from monopole, always staying the broad expression course. “We committed to this in 1981 and other than experiments, we’ve stayed this way,” says Anthony Hamilton-Russell. There is simply no plot, block, aspect, top, middle or bottom slope separation. It’s pinot all in for one purpose, fully conjoined and conspiring to make the Hamilton Russell expression. This expression, of pure fruit, no drudgery, clarity and exceptional length. Drink 2017-2029. Tasted October 2017
Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell at Ridley College