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Casa Ferreirinha - Douro’s Dona

As one of the Douro’s greatest and most historical names, a tasting of Casa Ferreirinha was one I leapt at when Eddie McDougall, aka The Flying Winemaker, kindly invited me a few days ago. Most well known for their iconic Barca Velha, a wine which is so in demand it pretty much sells out before it comes on the market, Casa Ferreirinha, is certainly the Douro winery with the most historical clout, and one of the most dynamic. 

Founded in the 18th century by Bernardo Ferreira, the estate really became refined under the control of Bernardo’s granddaughter, Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, affectionately known as “Ferreirinha”, meaning “the little Ferreira”. Twice widowed, Dona Antonia had a striving entrepreneurial spirit and managed to consolidate and hugely develop the large company she was left to run. By all accounts she was a very prominent and charismatic lady, not something probably all that common back then so I take my hat off to her! 

After Dona Antonia’s death, the company became a limited company and began adapting to new market developments, always, however, holding on to their historical roots and their drive for quality. Now owned by Portugal’s biggest producer, Sogrape, the winery continues to maintain its historical ties and keeps in close contact with members of the Ferreira family. 

Yesterday’s tasting was of 5 wines. All really lovely examples of what high quality is coming out of the Douro today. I would highly urge anyone wanting something a bit different to look out for wines such as Casa Ferreirinha going forwards as not only are they of exceptional quality, they are also exceedingly good value. All the wines below are available (some in very limited quantities due to high demand) to buy through The Flying Winemaker. Happy drinking! 

Casa Ferreirinha Planalto Douro Branco Reserva 2012
A pale lemon colour. The nose is nice and fresh with some peach and pear character alongside some nice ripe lemon and a touch of tropical fruit. Medium intensity with some good complexity. On the palate it’s medium bodied, dry, nice and refreshing due to high acidity, with lots of lemon character on the mid palate and peach character on the finish. Some nice savoury, salty minerality as well suggestive of the Douro terroir. A very good quality wine. The perfect match for seafood. 17 (HK$180)

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Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro White 2010
A lovely golden colour with medium intense aromas of fresh lemon with a hint of cream due to oak ageing. An elegant floral note of honey suckle. Quite full bodied on the palate with good intensity of flavour. Lemon, melon and touches of creamy vanilla oak, with spices, toast and a hint of something savoury. The creamy character intensifies with time in the glass. A touch of tannin from the oak adds to the texture and layers of this complex, concentrated wine. The oak is well balanced and in harmony with the acidity, alcohol and fruit concentration. A very long finish. A lovely wine. 17.5 (HK$210)

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Casa Ferreirinha Esteva 2012
Pale ruby in colour with purple tints suggesting its youth. Lots of fresh raspberry character from the Tempranillo in the blend. Fresh ripe red berry fruit with a touch of black plum and a nice floral character adding to the bouquet. Fairly light body with medium intensity of flavours. The aromas nicely repeat themselves as flavours on the palate. Some nice acidity keeps this wine fresh, and light ripe tannins with a bit of grip make it a nice easy drinker. Perfect served slightly chilled at around 16 degrees. Quite similar in style to a good Dolcetto as Eddie pointed out. 16.5 (HK$150)

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Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Red 2009
A nice deep ruby colour with some good aroma intensity. Lots of black berry fruit, black plums, black berries, black cherries, also with some red currant fruit, sweet spice, vanilla, a floral touch. Complex, concentrated and intense. Quite full body with intense flavours of black cherry black plum black berry, spice, cedar, tobacco, vanilla, oak, toast. Tannins are fairly grippy yet ripe. A long concentrated finish. Nice balance between high acidity, alcohol and fruit concentration. A very good wine 17.5 (HK$210)

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Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda 2009 (Single Estate) 
Opaque ruby colour. Very floral on the nose, violets and dried roses in particular. Very bright, elegant and attractive, scented and fresh, clearly a high quality wine. Intense sweet blackberry and black cherry aromas, with some red currants, spice and oak. Full bodied on the palate with similar flavours as the aromas - ripe black fruits, black cherries, black plum, black berry, roses, oak, toast, chocolate, resin and sweet spice. Very complex. A wine which keeps on giving! High acidity with ripe yet grippy tannins. A heady wine with an extremely long finish. High alcohol is balanced with ripeness of fruit. Enjoyable now but still young with at least 10-15 years ahead of it. 18 (HK$550)

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Israel Wine Tour

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Israel for the first time. My boyfriend and I plus a number of our friends were invited to the wedding of some good friends of ours in Tel Aviv so naturally we decided to add a few days either side and turn this into a proper holiday.

As luck would have it, one of the groom’s friends, Alon Yitzhaki, is the man behind Israel Wine Tour, a seriously superior organisation arranging wine tours to some of Israel’s most boutique and quality wineries. Naturally when I discovered this I got straight in touch with Alon to see whether he might be able to arrange a tour for a small group of us on the first day of our trip. 

We stepped off our El Al flight at 4.30am and by 10.30am we were standing with winemaker Eran Pick examining the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon vines at Tzora Vineyards in the heart of the Judean Hills, one of Israel’s fastest growing regions for quality wine production. 

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Eran is no doubt one of Israel’s most talented winemakers. Graduating top of his class from Davis, California, he is currently studying for the MW and in between time manages to make some of the most delicious wines we tasted during our week in Israel. 

At Tzora they are always searching for the coolest areas for growing grapes. The climate is generally very warm, Mediterranean with very little rain so irrigation is necessary. The vineyards sit at around 650 metres above sea level with cool breezes blowing through the hills. The soils here are poor and shallow, the vines therefore quite weak and very low yielding.

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One of the main challenges for the winemaking team, explained Eran, is discovering the correct amount of irrigation needed to ensure the vines aren’t over stressed in such hot, dry conditions. They use composting to help the vines build additional strength and are constantly investigating what the vines need in order to reach their perfect balance. 

Tzora uses only their own estate-grown grapes in their wines. 80% of the vineyards are planted with red grapes. Terra Rossa soils, rich in iron with limestone beneath, give a marked minerality to the wines which are elegant and restrained rather than mega fruit bombs. 

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The winery is a kosher winery meaning the wines are produced according to Juddaism’s religious laws. The winemaking and viticultural practices remain the same as for a normal vineyard, the difference being that for wines to be kosher, Sabbath-observant male Jews must supervise the entire winemaking process and any ingredients used, including finings, must also be kosher. 

We tasted 5 wines from the range starting with the Tzora Vineyards Judean Hills 2013, a blend of 86% Chardonnay, 14% Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has plenty of peach and tropical melon character with a hint of fresh lime on the nose. Lively on the palate with medium body, nice acidity and a taught, linear structure. Lemon and peach flavours follow through. The grapes are harvested at night to keep them as cool as possible. Whole bunch pressing and no malolactic fermentation takes place in order to retain the maximum acidity. Sur lie ageing in barrel takes place to gain texture. This is a very easily glugable wine and one we enjoyed on numerous occasions throughout our stay. Drinkability is what Eran strives for here and he’s certainly achieved it! 16.5 

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Next we tasted the Shoresh White 2013. This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc showing aromatic fresh lemon citrus aromas with a touch of herbiness, minerality and a hint of something savoury. A very unique nose. Lovely texture on the palate, rounded with lemon, savoury and mineral flavours and a hint of tomato leaf. Complex. A very well made wine. We liked it so much we bought some bottles home with us! 17.5

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Shoresh Red 2012 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah and 15% Merlot. A lovely deep ruby colour, this wine had plenty of blackberry fruit spice with touches of black currants. Very fresh and lively on the nose which follows through on the palate. Lovely soft tannins with a hint of herbaceous character. Nicely balanced. 16.5 

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Misty Hills 2011, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Syrah was next. Very nice black fruit and minerality on the nose. Fresh on the palate with medium body and lovely ripe tannins balanced by good levels of acidity. A nice long finish with wonderful balance. 17.5

Or 2012 is an ice wine which Tzora produces from Gewurztraminer grapes. Lemon cheese cake character with nice acidity which gives the wine freshness. Mouth-coating, sweet, but not at all cloying. It paired extremely well with the local cheese we were busy guzzling alongside the local EV olive oil and home made bread. 17 

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Once we’d made our fairly copious purchases, Alon whisked us off to our next visit at SeaHorse Winery, filling us in on Israel’s ancient wine history as we went. Despite seeming all fairly new, Israel’s wine history is in fact one of the oldest in the world, with wine being produced here thousands of years ago. The Romans discovered the quality of Israeli wine and exported it all over Europe with their soldiers, each of whom had a quota of 1 litre of wine a day! 

When the Muslims conquered Israel, however, wine production was prohibited and the industry all but ceased from the 7th until the 18th century. In the 1850’s a number of families began to produce wine once again and with the outbreak of phylloxera in European vineyards the pressure on the Ottoman Empire to start producing wine again was vast. 

Chateau Lafite’s Edmond James de Rothschild was desperate to continue vine growing during this era and as a Zionist, began investing and supporting Jews who immigrated to Palestine from Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th century. In 1882 he founded, what is known today as Carmel Winery which now exports to over 40 countries world wide. 

Since the 1970’s Israel’s wine market has been on the up, with plenty of new investment and a greater focus on quality wine production rather than wine made solely for sacramental purposes. 

Arriving at SeaHorse was a very different experience to other winery visits I’ve been on. This winery is about as down to earth as they come. No grand winery building designed by some famous architect or other. Rather an oversized garden shed, the entrance to which is more like some sort of artistic gift shop than a winery. 

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Inside artists’ portraits line the walls, chairs and crates are stacked on top of barrels, bottles are lined up wherever there is spare space, of which there is very little. Higgledy piggledy comes somewhere close to describing it. Yet the chaos feels somehow ordered and you certainly get a real sense of the personality of Ze’ev Dunie, the man behind these wines.

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Sadly Ze’ev was away the afternoon we visited, pouring his wines at a tasting back in Tel Aviv. Lucky for us though his wonderful wife, Orly, hosted us, opening just about every bottle imaginable in the range, as well as pouring us barrel samples, most of which went via pipette direct into the mouth of one of our particularly thirsty friends! 

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This very small, family owned winery is as hands on as you can get. The wines are all shaped by the quality and identity of the estate grown grapes, which are organically grown. Minimal interference occurs in the winemaking process to let the vineyards which are situated in the village of Bar-Giyora, in the heart of the Jerusalem mountains, tell their story. 

The wines are all named after authors or artists Ze’ev admires, himself an ex-film maker who fell in love with Israel and its wine while filming a documentary about it in the 1970s. The first wine we tasted was James 2012. 100% Chenin Blanc, very rare to find in Israel, this was lemon fresh with zingy acidity, some tropical fruit touches, lovely body and texture with a hint of honey. Delicious. We promptly bought 2 bottles! 16.5 

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Romain 2012 is a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre). Deep, jammy dried fruits with a sweet strawberry character. Full bodied with soft tannins. A touch too jammy for my tastes but others in the group enjoyed. 15.5 

Antoine 2011 is a Syrah based wine with touches of Grenache and Mourvedre. Deep blackberry jam character with plenty of spice. Full bodied, firm tannins, lots of spicy oak on the palate. A slightly short finish and a touch unbalanced but nonetheless juicy and enjoyed by the group. 16 

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Lennon 2010 is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre, varieties not often seen in Israel. Big jammy black fruit, blueberries, black currants, almost port like in character. Full bodied and full of flavour with lots of chunky tannin. Vanilla oak, toasty, smokey flavours with a floral touch and tons of black cherry and black plum fruit. Wine’s equivalent to Black Forest Gateaux! Complex and concentrated. 17

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Elul 2009 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petitie Sirah and considered by many as the winery’s flagship wine. Tons of juicy black currant fruit with lots of spice. Ripe, firm tannins, high alcohol balanced by the full fruit. 17 

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Hemingway 2012 barrel sample. A blend of Petite Syrah, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tons of ripe juicy black fruit, full bodied, huge character and concentration. Nice balance. 17 

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After such a plethora of red wine we were in need of some light refreshment so our tour continued on to a micro-brewery, much to the delight of our group’s resident “home-brewer”. The beers were all very tasty and made a great accompaniment on our journey to lunch. 

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Winding our way through more lovely hillsides we arrived at Majda, the most lovely of restaurants overlooking a picturesque Arabic village. Sitting outside with the scents of fresh herbs wafting all around us, we were poured yet another exceptional wine, the Pelter Gewurztraminer 2013. Incredibly scented with rose perfumes and lychee with lovely acidity, rare for Gewurz, and a great depth and complexity. This paired deliciously with all the starters we ordered including prawn falafel, roasted tomato salad, sardines and lamb gnochi.

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The food I have to say was some of the best we had on our whole trip, so good that even after sharing I think one of each of the main courses, the boys went back for more and ordered us one of each dessert as well! We were told the owner’s wife is one of the best pastry chefs in Israel so we could hardly say no!! Coffee was also a treat, made Arabic style with cardamom. Utterly delicious! 

We could have quite easily stayed in that peaceful garden all afternoon slowly digesting our gargantuan feast and sipping on copious amounts of SeaHorse Garcia Rose 2013, but instead Alon whipped us into shape and we stumbled fat and happy back to the car to continue our journey. 

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Alon decided no wine tour would be complete without seeing a) some more of Israel’s stunning countryside which we were able to appreciated as we drove along Burma road and b) an ancient wine press dating back 2,800 years, testament to Israel’s long wine history. 

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With the tour finally complete (a good 2 hours later than Alon’s usual tours!) we made our way back to Tel Aviv and straight to bed to recover!! 

For more information about doing an Israel Wine Tour, which I would highly recommend, contact Alon at: alon@israelwinetour.co.il

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Victory for Victoria Wines

A few weeks ago I was pouring Alpha Zeta wines from the Veneto on behalf of my old boss David Gleave MW at the Victoria Wines Annual Grand Tasting. The tasting was an excellent one. Lots of inquisitive consumers looking for delicious wines, of which there was no shortage. 

The tasting took place down at The Space in Sheung Wan, a gallery space which lends itself very well to wine tastings (Goedhuis hosted their tasting here last year) thanks to its white walls and kitchen area perfect for preparing the canapés needed to line the stomachs of eager wine drinkers.

Usually I attend tastings as a guest, and spend my time rushing frantically around trying to taste and write notes for as many wines as possible. It was therefore a nice change to be back behind the table once again, pouring the wines and explaining a bit about them to the thirsty masses. 

The Alpha Zeta brand is the brainchild of David Gleave MW who heads up highly successful London-based importer Liberty Wines where I spent a number of very happy years before moving to HK. It’s a range of seriously good value to quality ratio wines designed for everyday drinking. And trust me, this good quality for such fantastic value you won’t find many other places here in HK or indeed elsewhere. 

The range is labelled by varietal capital letter, super easy, stand out labelling - 'P' is for Pinot Grigio, their most popular wine, which is all ripe pear and red apple aromas with nice acidity, the perfect by the glass aperitif wine for drinking at the beach. 

'S' Soave is another top choice. More on the fresh lemon flavour side with lovely refreshing acidity and a crisp finish. This was so popular with one guest he came back to me at least four times for more and later asked me on a date! A winning wine all round! 

'C' Chardonnay is for those people who think they don’t like Chardonnay. It’s a simple, fresh, easy going Chardonnay with a bit more body and texture than the previous two whites and some nice white stone fruit character. Great for simple summer lunches. 

The reds in the range are all Valpolicellas in one form or another. Starting with ‘V’ Valpolicella this is a fresh, fruity, easy going red, quite light in style with lots of fresh red cherry fruit and soft tannins. A good by the glass option. 

'R' Ripasso Superiore has had a portion of dried grapes blended into a normal Valpolicella wine. This gives it more oomph, body, power and structure without being as big and bold as the next level up, the ‘A’ Amarone. It’s a nice halfway option between the ‘V’ Valpollicella and the ‘A’ Amarone, perfect for BBQs and casual dinners, especially at its current website price of just HK$88 per bottle. This was the night’s top choice on the red wine front. 

The ‘A’ Amarone is probably the best value Amarone you can find. At just HK$250, this has everything you could want of a good value Amarone. Lovely dark cherry fruit with dried plum character and a distinctive chocolate, mocha note. Nice ripe tannins, good acidity, full body. Bold but not overpowering. 

In between pouring the Alpha Zeta wines, I was also lucky enough to taste a number of other producers’ wines. What strikes me most about the Victoria Wines list is its really excellent price to quality ratio, not something one sees too often in HK. The list is packed full of really lovely wines, but is particularly strong in Australia and New Zealand. 

Years ago, when I first came back to London having been working on wineries in Mendoza and fallen in love with the wine industry, I happened to be asked whether I would help pour some wines at the New Zealand Annual Trade Tasting at Lords. I immediately said yes but had no idea whose wines I’d actually be helping with. The winery in question turned out to be Auntsfield and that was where I met Luc and Ben Cowley for the first time. 

Nearly ten years later, sat in Souvla having dinner with the rest of the Victoria Wines’ producers, I spied Ben across the table and made a direct beeline for him. Neither of us could quite believe how ten years had gone by and here we were now in HK more or less doing exactly the same thing! It’s moments like these that remind me why I love the wine industry just as much as I do. The people you meet, the wines you drink, the mad times you share together. It’s a life full of cool surprises and an endless amount of fun! 

Ben took me through his wines the following day at the tasting. When I tasted the wines ten years ago, I remember realising I was tasting some of the best wines NZ has to offer. Tasting recently reaffirmed this. The wines are stunning. The Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013 exudes freshness, is aromatic with a slight herbaceousness, round on the palate, with plenty of passion fruit character. (17

The 2011 Single Vineyard Chardonnay is tight and delicate. It doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation so is purely driven by its freshness. Melon, peach, nectartine notes with plenty of steely minerality. New French oak is so subtle you notice it more in terms of the tannin than the oak flavours themselves. A really impressive, delicious wine. (18.5)

The 2011 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir is all bright red cherry and plum fruit with hints of herbal touches. Medium body and plenty of ripe fruit character on the palate. Very tasty. (17.5)

The next step up is the 2010 Road Ridge Pinot Noir. Incredibly scented with floral perfumes alongside elegant red fruit notes, strawberries and plums. The elegance of the nose sets you up for something you’re not expecting on the palate as this is really an iron fist type scenario. Herbal and spice notes with full body, lovely fine tannins, evident minerality, a long long finish. A wonderful wine. (18.5)   

Other producers I tasted and who are worth looking out for are Jamsheed from the Yarra Valley, a recent addition to the Victoria Wines’ list. Pepe Le Pinot 2013 and Ma Petite Francine 2013 were my faves along with the Beechworth Syrah 2012

William Downie produces undoubtedly some of the best Pinot Noir’s coming out of Australia. His Gippsland 2013 won the day for me with it’s lovely crisp bright red strawberry and plum fruit, so elegant and perfumed with lovely soft, supple tannins, medium body, a herbal touch and a supremely long length (18.5). His Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula are different styles but equally as good. 

Langmeil for Barossa Shiraz and Grenache is a must taste. I’m not usually a massive fan of Barossa wines but these reds really blew me away. Very old vines make for an elegance I don’t often associate with Barossa. Robert Parker and James Halliday are big fans! 

Vina Bujanda produces some of the tastiest and best value Riojas I’ve had in a long time. Their Crianza 2010 and Reserva 2008 I think particularly good wines and at really stunning prices. The Crianza is a RP 90 pointer and well worth a buy at such a great price, just HK$113 a bottle. 

I could go on but the list of good wines is really fairly endless! All the wines are available to buy on the Victoria Wines website so I’d urge you to have a look asap! http://www.victoriawines.com.hk/

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Gramona - Cava like no other….

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I seem to be spending quite a bit of time tasting at Berry Brothers & Rudd these days but the truth is they really do deal with some truly excellent and unique wines which I would highly recommend looking out for.

My latest tasting, in fact Masterclass, which took place on Friday evening, was that of Gramona, arguably the finest producer of Cava. Now I understand that Cava is probably not a wine which most people associate with quality. Up until Friday I myself had only tasted a handful of Cavas which I’ve thought really delicious, all of which I tasted when I was working for Miguel Torres out in Penedes and happened to attend CavaTast, Cava’s official weekend festival, which takes place each October in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the home of Cava. 

You see the problem with top quality Cava is that it never leaves Spain. The Spanish (quite rightly as the top stuff is so good!) keep it all for themselves. Gramona’s export market is just 20% Ana Lopez Lidon, their export manager, told me. Considering just 1500 bottles of each of their top wines, the Gramona Enoteca Brut and Enoteca Brut Nature, get produced each year, that’s a mere 300 bottles for the rest of us outside of Spain. Not an enormous amount by any stretch of the imagination!

I therefore consider myself extremely fortunate to have attended last week’s Masterclass as I managed to taste a number of wines which I’ll probably have a hard time finding again unless I make the pilgrimage to San Sadurni, something I’m now certainly considering doing after being blown away by the quality of the Gramona wines. 

An all natural, organic, biodynamic vineyard and winery, Gramona is as sustainable and environmentally friendly as they come. Just 5% of the winery is visible to the outside world, the majority buried 6 metres underground to ensure natural thermal insulation leading to significant energy savings. Rainwater is collected to use in the vineyards and winery processes and no expense spared in terms of R&D to ensure they are doing their upmost to protect their natural environment. 

The history of the estate is just as impressive - over 125 years, spanning five generations. Cousins Jaume and Xavier Gramona currently head up the estate; Jaume also a Professor of Sparkling Wines at the University of Tarragona, and Xavier with a wealth of business experience outside the cellar. 

The key to Gramona’s uniqueness is both the long ageing process they use for their wines, between 3-11 years, and the fact they use a much higher proportion of native Barcelona grape Xarel-lo in their blends. Xarel-lo is unique, not only because of its slow oxidation, but also because it contains the highest levels of anti-oxidant resveratrol found in white grapes. It can therefore withstand years of long ageing, the hallmark of Gramona’s finest Cavas. 

If that wasn’t enough to set them apart from all the rest, Gramona have one more trick up their sleeve which makes their Cavas utterly unique. The family has a distilling tradition, that began at the end of the 19th century, trading rum, sherry and wine with the Americas (Cuba, Mexico, Florida etc). Their “liqueur” or “dosage”, that is used to top up the bottle after disgorgement, is made by means of a “solera” system where the “brandies” are aged in old Gramona barrels with sherry or rum sediments from this ancient trading between Spain and the Americas. 

So what of the wines themselves? Does all this history, tradition and innovation lead to greatness? From my tasting notes below, I think you’ll agree yes! 

2009 Gramona, Argent Gran Reserva Cava

100% Chardonnay. Bright green apple on the nose with a hint of yeast and a touch of something pleasantly chemical. Good body with a smooth mousse, refreshing acidity, white peach and pear notes with a touch of smokey saltiness. Quite complex with a nice fresh finish. 16 (HK$290)

2008 Gramona, Brut Vintage, Gran Reserva 

50% Xarel-lo, 45% Macabeo, 5% Chardonnay. Savoury, lemon and lime aromas with a rich, smooth mousse and tangy acidity. A nice, yeasty, nutty touch. Quite long to finish. A nice wine. 17 (HK$180)

2007 Gramona, Imperial Gran Reserva

50% Xarel-lo, 40% Macabeo, 10% Chardonnay. 5 years lees ageing. Nice bright greenish yellow colour. Lemon, lime and Granny Smith apple with a salty tang on the nose and a hint of toast. Fresh, complex nose. Biscuit and fresh baked dough notes on the palate which is wonderfully smooth, intense and long. Rich, toasty, with full body and plenty of complexity and concentration. 17.5 (HK$340)

2006 Gramona, Gran Reserva III Lustros 

75% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo. 7 years ageing on the lees. This wine and the next 3 are all sourced from the same vineyard parcel, the only difference is the length of ageing. Toasty on the nose with a hint of something chemical (not unpleasant). Lemon, apple, biscuit, nuts, butter, with a lifted floral note on top. Very yeasty on the palate and much smoother than the previous wines. Rye bread hints. A fuller bodied wine. High acidity. Long and very complex. 18 (HK$335)

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2004 Gramona Cellar Battlle Gran Reserva Brut

75% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo. Deep and intense toasty, savoury, nutty notes. Wonderfully smooth on the palate yet with a nervy acid backbone. Brioche, walnut, almond, apricots and figs with a creamy touch. Hugely complex. A very well made wine. 18.5 (HK$600)

2000 Gramona Enoteca Brut 

75% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo. More golden in colour, nutty, toasty, with notes of figs and apricots, a touch of white flower blossom. Massive complexity. Full bodied with all the flavours of a fine Parisian patisserie shop. Apricot tart in particular. Rich, rounded, with lovely acidity and a very long concentrated finish. Delicious. A really stunning wine. 19 (HK$1380) 

2000 Gramona Enoteca Brut Nature 

75% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo. If the Enoteca Brut is the Ferrari of the range, then the Brut Nature is the F1 car. Totally pure, with remarkable fizz, hugely linear, vibrant, direct, wonderful freshness. Toasty, nutty, savoury complexity with plenty of green apple, lemon, lime and a salty minerality. Very high acidity. So lifted and fresh. Needs food to cut through the acidity. Oysters would be perfect. 18.5+ (HK$1300) 

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All wines available to buy from Berry Brothers & Rudd HK

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Eben Sadie calls for Freshness and Acidity

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"I miss my dog" Eben Sadie tells me, "I can’t wait to be back home". And no wonder. The photos flicking up on the screen of Eben’s Swartland vineyards in South Africa, some of which date back to 1887, are stunning to say the least. 

I find myself chatting to Eben at a tasting hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd at their offices in HK, the final event of a 3-week round the world travel extravaganza which Eben is now looking forward to seeing the back of. “I won’t be back in Hong Kong for 5 years,” he says. I hope he’s joking but have a feeling he might be serious.

Travelling is clearly not his thing. He much prefers to be in his vineyards, some of which were so ancient and abandoned when he took them over that it took him 3 years of individually pruning each vine to get them back to a state where they were able to produce fruit again. That’s a LOT of work and a LOT of TLC! 

A staunch  believer that great wines are made in the vineyard, Eben is now as non-interventional as he can be with his wines. Over the years his attitudes have changed. His aim now is for freshness and acidity where as before it was for ripeness, extraction and plenty of new oak. He believes other South African winemakers are in agreement. It’s goodbye to the 100-point blockbusters, perhaps, but a big thankful hello to much more balanced, elegant, terroir-driven wines.

Sadie is a great believer in blends and disagrees with the South African obsession of planting solely French varieties. He prefers Mediterranean grapes, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, believing they are better suited to the Swartland region where he has established his winery. He struggles constantly with the South African wine authorities which prevent him from planting the varieties he wishes to grow. 

Despite these obstacles, however, Sadie has built up an enviable reputation for producing wines of staggering elegance and purity, wines which quite simply cannot not be made anywhere else in the world. And the best part?…They are unbelievably good value. Get stocking up…I certainly will be! 

The wines were tasted in the order below according to Eben’s request that his red wines should be tasted before the whites. The winery produces just 4,000 cases a year. 

2012 Pofadder  

Named after the puff adder snake which can be found in the vineyards, this wine is 100% Cinsault. Scented, pure red fruits on the nose, particularly cherries, with a touch of spice. A lovely crunchiness on the palate, vibrant and fresh with a nice chalky edge.  17.5 (HK$220)

2012 Soldaat 

Soldaat, meaning solider, is made from 100% Grenache from 48-year-old vines on decomposed granite soils at 2,200 ft of elevation. Very elegant deep red plum and red berries aromas. Raspberries, strawberries, cherries, a touch of spice and herbal-mineral note on the palate. Loverly balance. 17 (HK$240) 

2012 Treinspoor

Treinspoor, meaning railway line as one runs through the vineyard, is taut and fine, made from Tinta Barocca. Elegant, floral notes on the nose with hints of plum and spice. Good structure on the palate, medium to full bodied with plum fruit and a touch of blackberry. Ripe yet fresh with slightly chalky tannins and a mineral laden finish. 17.5  (HK$190) 

2010 Columella 

One of Eben’s best known wines, Columella is multi-layered and complex. Deep blackberry and savoury, meaty notes on the nose, followed by spice, violets and blueberries. Full bodied with ripe chunky tannins. Very long and well balanced. A wine which will age for a good 20 years. 18 (HK$480)

2012 Skerpioen 

Skerpioen, meaning scorpion, is a Chenin Blanc and Palomino blend from 66-year-old vines planted on clay and chalky soils in the northwest corner of Swartland. Fresh lemon on the nose with a hint of almond. Crisp and fresh on the palate with medium body, good acidity and a nice finish. 16.5 (HK$190)

2012 Skurfberg 

Skurfberg, meaning rigid mountain, is Chenin Blanc sourced from 88-year-old vines planted on Table Mountain sandstone. Lovely elegant lemon fruit on the nose with layers of savoury complexity and a hint of floral character. Medium bodied with nice acidity and freshness, lots of complexity and a long finish. 18 (HK$190)

2012 T Voetpad 

This wine comes from a 3.5 acre parcel that is a field blend of Semillon, Semillon Gris, Palomino, Chenin Blanc and Muscat d’Alexandria planted in a stretch from 1887 to 1928. The T Voetpad, which means footpath, has wonderful fresh lemon aromas with hints of honeysuckle and pineapple. Very high acidity, zingy, fresh, precise. Complex, layered with a long lasting finish. Only 150 cases made. 17.5 (HK$240)

2012 Mrv Kirsten 

Named after the vineyard’s owner, Mrs Kirsten, this wine comes, according to Sadie, from South Africa’s oldest Chenin Blanc vineyard, planted in 1905. Just 80 cases were made. Golden in colour with melon, honey and tropical fruit touches, savoury, quince and lime notes. Bone-dry, taut and nervy with tons of complexity, full body and a zingy freshness to finish. 18 (HK$740)

2010 Palladius

Incredible minerality on the nose with fresh lemon, lime and tropical fruit, apricot and peach touches. Wonderfully complex and concentrated on the palate with firm acidity and a very long finish. A wine with 15 years ahead of it. 18.5 (HK$370)

All wines are available to buy in Hong Kong from Berry Brother’s and Rudd 

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Legras & Haas Champagne Lunch @ China Tang

"I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate…And I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself" Napoleon Bonaparte claimed. No wonder he was such an impressive leader! If I could afford to drink Champagne every day, I definitely would. I’m certainly working on it!

Yesterday was a great push in the right direction to this life long ambition when Prowine and Jérôme Legras, the youngest of 3 sons running Legras & Haas Champagnehosted an 8-course Champagne lunch at China Tang to which I was very happily invited. 

Proceedings started with a glass of the Legras & Haas Cuvée Brut Tradition NV which is a blend of all three Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It has lovely lifted lemon and green apple notes on the nose with hints of brioche and a floral touch. Smooth in the mouth with a medium body, high acidity, lovely balance and a long, elegant finish. A very nice house style. 17

Next up, served with a delicately flavoured selection of Dim Sum was the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NVFresh lemon and Granny Smith apple character dominate on the nose. Very zippy and vibrant on the palate. A slightly lighter, fresher style than the Brut Tradition, smooth with lively acidity and a well balanced finish. 17

Next followed a truly spoiling line up of 4 Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Millésimes all poured from Magnums. Not something one gets to taste everyday I can assure you, although I’m of course aspiring to these heights! 

What was a great reminder to me as we sipped our way through the 2004, the 2002, the 1996 and the 1995 vintages, was that when matched to the right food, as it was here, expertly paired to a whole array of traditional Cantonese dishes, Champagne can be one of the nicest wines to enjoy over the course of a whole lunch, not just when served as an aperitif. Naturally this is what they are used to doing in Champagne but for some reason, it’s done very rarely in other parts of the world, even when the food type, as with Chinese, is crying out for these kinds of fresh, dry, high acid wines. If you have the opportunity to give this sort of food and wine pairing a go, I would highly recommend it as it throws up some really wonderful results. 

The Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004 Magnum was all fresh lemon and green apple on the nose. Fuller mouth feel and more complexity on palate than the NV with a lovely texture. Ripe lemon citrus with touches of honey and white flower blossom alongside a hint of brioche. Medium bodied and highly elegant. A lovely wine. 17.5+

The Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2002 Magnum was a deeper golden colour with lovely depth of aromas, a touch of honey with ripe lemon and minerality. Much bigger and richer on the palate than the 2004 due to the quality of the 2002 vintage. Honeyed lemon mineral complexity with a smooth freshness on the finish and a lovely balance. 18.5+

The Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 1996 Magnum had a wonderful lemon freshness on the nose, with salty mineral notes, a white flower blossom hint and touches of savoury brioche. A fresher, leaner style than the 2002, with very high acidity and good mineral complexity. A wonderful match with the slight oiliness of the baked crab. 18.5

The Blanc de Blancs 1995 Magnum was a lot more evolved on the nose, so much so that Jérôme removed the bottle saying it was not as he expected so we were to enjoy more of the 1996 instead! The wine was a lot richer and smoother on the palate than the 1996 and certainly a lot more oxidised with honeyed floral notes and plenty of savoury complexity. Perhaps a bit flat on the finish but a nice wine nonetheless. 17.5

Despite Jérome not thinking it was acceptable, many round the table believed it to be a good wine and in fact enjoyed the slightly more evolved style it was giving. Jérome however insists it was not in keeping with other bottles he’s tasted recently so he invited us to share a Magnum of 1995 with him when we are next in Champagne. An offer we won’t be refusing! 

The final wine we tasted was the brand new vintage of the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2008Fresh mineral lemon with a fennel note on the nose. Highly elegant and complex aromas. Rich, fairly full bodied, high acidity and very well balanced. Huge concentration with a touch of sweetness balancing the savoury character of the wine. Really delicious. Huge potential. 18+

All in all it was a really excellent tasting demonstrating the sheer depth, complexity and concentration which one can get from top quality vintage Champagnes such as these. 

The Legras & Haas Champagnes are available to buy in HK from top quality importer Prowine

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Tasting Extravaganza @ L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

To mark our 1 year anniversary this weekend, my wonderful boyfriend decided to surprise me by treating me (and more importantly himself!) to dinner at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Not one to do things by halves he opted for the full blown 10-course tasting menu, something I have to say I’d usually avoid as generally there are one or two courses, if not more, which simply aren’t to my tastes (an excessive use of fois gras, for instance, being one).

Happily on this occasion, I’m very glad he made all the decisions for me (other than the wine of course which is always a joint effort!) as this particular tasting menu was really one not to be missed. Every course was prepared and delivered impeccably, something one doesn’t see enough of in HK despite such high prices when dining in restaurants. If you have an allergy to anything on the menu, the chef will readily prepare something different to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the courses which I think is a really nice, not to mention highly professional, touch. 

Needless to say the food was delicious. Some courses better than others naturally but overall really well executed with lovely contrasts of flavours and textures. Rich ingredients were used in the perfect amount and portion size well controlled ensuring we got to the end of the marathon feeling full but not to the point of bursting. 

We of course had some delicious wines to pair throughout. The restaurant doesn’t have a specific wine pairing to go with the menu but their by the glass selection is one of the most interesting and diverse I have seen in HK, particularly because they feature a number of older vintages, something rare to find on by the glass lists here. 

We started with the Ruinart Rose NV. A much better option than their House Champagne Veuve Cliquot NV. For around 60 bucks more you can get a glass of a really tasty Champagne so I’d always recommend spending this extra if the house Champagne is a brand you can easily buy in the supermarket. The Ruinart Rose was very elegant on the nose with floral touches and some red berry fruit with touches of lemon. Medium body, a lovely smooth mousse, some hints of brioche and subtle savoury touches. A lovely wine to get us started for the first few courses. (17)

Next we had a glass of the Chateau d’Yquem Lur-Saluces Y 2008. This is Chateau d’Yquem’s dry white wine, a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Particularly oily on the nose with some nice complexity added from grassy touches and hints of lemon, peach, apricot, floral and honey notes. Medium to full bodied with similar flavours as the aromas and a long honeyed, floral finish. A highly unique wine and one well worth trying if you’re looking for something a bit different and some interesting food pairing results. (17.5)

The red wine look a while to choose as we were trying to find something within our budget (most wines are well over HK$1,500 so you have to know what your looking for or be exceedingly rich!). The wine list is one of the biggest in HK and one I could spend hours pouring over. As I usually do when priced out of France is look to Italy or Spain as normally there are some wonderful wines at more accessible prices. 

I decided upon a 1998 Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric which proved to be the highlight of the evening. Wonderfully perfumed, scented violet notes overlying plum and black cherry fruit aromas and a touch of spice. From the nose, appearing still very youthful. Medium bodied with smooth, rounded, chalky tannins and the same violet, plum, cherry character from the nose on the palate. Lovely balance, complexity and concentration and a very long length. A wine with tons of life ahead of it yet drinking very nicely now. Opened up and kept on giving with decanting. Highly recommended! (18.5)

If you’re looking for a serious treat, Joel Robuchon won’t disappoint. Although the price tag is hefty (around HK$2,000 per head without wine), if you’re anything like me, you do this sort of thing once in a blue moon and when you do it’s because you want to experience beyond what the everyday can deliver.Roll on Anniversary number 2! 

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The Fine Wine Lectures - Brunello di Montalcino Masterclass

A stellar line up for last night’s Brunello di Montalcino Masterclass courtesy of The Fine Wine Lectures. Some of the finest wines from the region without a shadow of a doubt. Wonderful reception from the class on the quality of the wines which is what these classes are really all about. Top wines from top vintages, with as many older wines as we can find to clearly demonstrate the wines’ development through time. The Stella di Campalto 2007 and Poggio di Sotto 2004 won the day with half the class voting for each one. A horizontal tasting of top Brunello wines from one single outstanding vintage is what we’ll be hoping to feature next. Watch this space….

Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino 2007 

Quite savoury on the nose with notes of tea, leather, red cherry, red currant and plum. Concentrated with medium to full body, quite rounded with fine chalky tannins and lots of plum and cherry fruit. Long length. A tasty wine. 17.5 (Available to buy at Prowine Limited

Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino 2007 

Black plum, black cherry with a touch of spice and oak aromas. Full bodied, blackberry, spicy palate with chewy tannins which need time to soften and integrate. Concentrated but lacking somewhat in complexity. 16.5+ (Available to buy at ASC Fine Wines

Stella di Campalto Brunello di Montalcino 2007 (Biodynamic)

Developing aromas with vegetal touches alongside red currant, red cherry a touch of strawberry. Nicely scented and perfumed opening with time in the glass to leather, tea, spice complexity. Very elegant. Medium body with fairly big chalky tannins and lovely red cherry, red currant flavours on the palate with spice notes. Very complex with a long finish. An excellent wine. Drinking well now but will age for 10+ years. Highly recommended. 18.5 (Available to buy at Berry Brothers & Rudd

Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino 2006 

Deep black plum fruit concentration, quite spicy with a touch of savoury and leather, also vegetal hints. Opens up with time in the glass. Complex and concentrated, full bodied with huge chalky tannins. Still very young. Tannins need time to soften. Very long length. A big, chewy, chunky, masculine wine with lots of time on its side. 17.5 (Available to buy at Prowine Limited

Poggio di Soto Brunello di Montalcino 2004 (Biodynamic) 

Lots of tea, red currant, red cherry, spice and perfume, similar in style to Stella di Campalto as these are neighbouring estates in the south east of Montalcino. Also, like the Stella di Campalto, a biodynamic wine. Lovely style, developing but still tons of life left. Very elegant with fine yet fairly big, chalky tannins, medium body and very long length. More structured than the Stella di Campalto which is a slightly lighter, more feminine in style. Drinking wonderfully now but will age for many years to come. 18.5 (available to buy from Sino Vantage Asia)

Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino 1995 

Garnet colour with developing aromas of dried red currants and red cherries with a touch of tea, spice and leather. A very slight, barely perceivable cork taint. Medium bodied on the palate with some nice red fruit character but sadly the main elements of the wine are out of kilter. Very high acidity and tannins which aren’t in balance with the concentration of the fruit. Possibility the wine is sleeping. Needs to balance and meld together. Disappointing. 16.5 (newer vintages available from ASC Fine Wines)

Casanuova delle Cerbaie Brunello di Montalcino 2001

Developing vegetal notes with black plum, scented with plenty of perfume. Full bodied, smooth rounded tannins, hight alcohol, lots of spice and ripe concentrated black fruit with plum and leather notes. A very big style of Brunello. Drops off a bit on the finish and perhaps lacks a touch of finesse and elegance. 17 

 

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Chateau Mont-Redon Tasting @ Cellarmaster Wines

I haven’t done a tasting of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a while so tasting the Chateau Mont-Redon wines last night at Cellarmaster Wines was rather a treat. 

The wines were all showing well but I was particularly taken by the Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2011, the Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2012 which is a great example of what Cotes du Rhone can do at its best, and of course the piece de resistance of the evening the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2000 poured from Magnums. 

Chateau Mont-Redon Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2011

Nice peach and apricot aromas with some savoury touches and touch of lemon citrus. Medium body, citrus and peach fruit on palate with medium acidity. Nice, easy going white for glugging and pairing especially with Asian food. 16

Chateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2011

Fresh lemon and peach aromas on the nose with lots of mineral notes. Medium to full body, very nicely textured and well balanced with medium acidity. Huge minerality on the palate. Complex with an elegant fresh finish. Very tasty. Highly recommended. 17.5

Chateau Mont-Redon Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2012
Fresh  primary fruit on the nose with plenty of red cherry, strawberry and raspberry characger. Light to medium body with medium tannins and a fresh finish. A very good example of what Cotes du Rhone Rouge can and should deliver. 16 

Chateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 2009

Nice plum aromas on the nose with touches of spice. Rounded on the palate with fairly big tannins, medium body, and plenty of dark plum and red berry character. Still very young. 16.5

Chateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape rouge 2006 (from Magnum)
Some development on the nose and plenty of red berry fruit with some dried cranberry, red currant, spice and plum character. Fairly big tannins, high alcohol, medium to full body with long length and some decent complexity. 17

Cheateau Mont-Redon Chateauneuf du Pape rouge 2000 (from Magnum) 
Some lovely development on the nose, touches of vegetal alongside vibrant red berry fruit, cherries, raspberries, red currant and spice notes. Smooth, rounded tannins, medium acidity and plenty of complexity on the long finish. Wonderfully alive. A wine in its prime. 18


All wines are available to buy in HK from Cellarmaster Wines 


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Wellspring Wines - A Quality Selection

Tasting last Thursday afternoon through a lovely selection of wines picked out by founder of Wellspring Wines Roddy Ropner, I was reminded how pleasant it is to go to small, informal tastings in Hong Kong. Usually one is fighting one’s way through hoards of people in an attempt to get a taste of the wines one wants to try, endlessly searching for non-existent spittoons and finding absolutely no information available on the wines in question.

Thankfully, some wine companies, like Wellspring Wines, have got it right. A well balanced, well sized selection of wines, 4 whites, 5 red and a couple of Champagnes, printed fact sheets for each wine complete with tasting notes from Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler MW, spittoons in full reach around the tasting table, and the right amount of people to enable professional and enjoyable tasting to take place. Wine companies planning tastings going forward take note! 

Working my way around the room I started with the Champagnes, followed by some lovely whites and finishing with some top quality reds. Wellspring Wines’ list may be smaller than most but it is packed full of top quality offerings at very reasonable prices. Hopefully my tasting notes below will give you a good insight. Cheers! 

Champagne Guy de Chassey Louvois Brut Grand Cru N.V 

Some nice green apple and lemon touches, nice fruity aromatics, a touch of brioche. Elegant. Quite light and fresh on the palate with lovely green apple character, high acidity and a touch of mineral to finish. 16.5 

Champagne Guy de Chassey Louvois Brut Grand Cru 2002 

Ripe lemon citrus fruit with yeasty brioche notes. Some fresh Granny Smith apple overlaying more savoury complexity. Quite rich on the palate with lemon citrus and plenty of autolytic character. Long, savoury, high acid finish. 17 

Fildefere Muscadet Sauvion 2011 

Melon and floral notes with a touch of lemon and mineral character. An attractive, perfumed nose. Light body, medium acidity, lemon character on the palate with some savoury, mineral complexity on the finish. 16

Gregoris Venezie Pinot Grigio 2012 

Nice, fresh, ripe apple nose with a hint of flower blossom and tropical fruit hints. Light to medium body with nice apple character and a touch of pleasant bitterness on the finish. Much more to this wine that your average Pinot Grigio. 16

Thierry Et Pascale Matrot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010 

Plenty of lemon citrus character, very fresh nose, a hint of spice, medium body, creamier on the palate than the nose suggests. High acidity, some savoury, vanilla notes from a touch of oak. Nicely balanced. 16.5 

Thierry Et Pascale Matrot Meursault 2009 

Attractive, creamy, buttery ripe lemon nose. Some exotic tropical fruit touches with hints of spice. Quite full and rich on the palate with toasty oak balanced by lots of ripe lemon fruit. Vanilla, spice, oak, toast flavours. Nicely balanced. Long length. A nice example of a fresher style of Meursault as not overly creamy and well balanced by crisp lemon fruit. 17.5

Bishops Head Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2011 

Fresh strawberry fruit on the nose with a touch of herbaceous character. Medium bodied with medium tannins. Quite high alcohol. A long, herbal finish. 15.5 

Arnoux-Lachaux Bourgogne Pinot Fin 2008 

Dark, concentrated plum fruit with some herbal notes. Medium bodied, medium tannins, lots of plum and dark cherry fruit character. Concentrated yet elegant. Subtle spice to finish. Fairly long with some complexity. 17 

Chateau Cadet Fontpierre Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2006 

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Some garnet colouring showing development. Blackberry and plum fruit with herby, spice notes and touch of fruitcake. Very elegant nose. Medium bodied on the palate with some leather flavours alongside spice and a hint of tobacco. Medium to high tannins. Long length with some good complexity. 17 

Marchesi di Gresy Monte Colombo Barbera d’Asti 2007 

Lovely black fruit aromatics, black plum, black cherry, very elegant and fragranced. Some nice spice and a touch of oak and toast. Medium to full bodied, lovely blackberry concentration on the palate, medium tannins, lovely balance and long length. Drinking very well now but will age a few more years. 17.5 

Marchesi di Gresy Camp Gros Martinenga Barbaresco 2007

Lovely aromas of violet, blackberries, plum with a touch of tar. Wonderfully floral on the nose and highly elegant. High tannins, medium body, concentrated yet supremely elegant. Plum and spice on the palate with distinctive violet notes. Long long very complex finish. A really delicious wine for drinking now or keeping for some years to come. 18