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  • The Sadie Family Skurfberg 2019


    “The 2019 Skurfberg, which is whole-cluster-pressed Chenin matured in old foudre, has an understated bouquet of subtle undergrowth, chalk and chai tea scents that take their time to find their groove. The palate is very well balanced with a fine degree of acidity, more neutral in style than Sadie’s other 2019s, just a touch of orange zest lighting up the finish. This Skurfberg needs 4–5 years in bottle but it will certainly be worth your patience and may merit a higher score down the line. Drinking window: 2022-2036. 95+ points

    It had been too long since I shot the breeze with Eben Sadie. Even though we couldn’t chat in his natural habitat, the vineyard, our Zoom conversation between Surrey and the Swartland was the next best thing. As expected, our conversation meandered to cover all manner of subjects, not only pertaining to South Africa. Eben Sadie is a contradiction in the sense that he is wedded to his homeland yet has a catholic taste in wine, as evidenced by rows of Burgundy and Barolo bottles lining his office. He began in typically philosophical form, looking back at his professional career.

    “I have surpassed everything I set out to do and forged a team around me with similar capabilities. You need people to follow with the same trajectory, people that buy into your vision. It’s like a painter. You need a good studio where you feel free to practice your art. Wine is the same, but there are all these people who make it possible. We’ve gone from a staff of 10 to 25, mostly on the viticultural side. We have also acquired land, so that 80% of the vineyards are completely controlled by ourselves, even if from a financial standpoint it is much less profitable. Also, we have planted different grape varieties, which is exciting, though not all are successful.”

    One intriguing exchange concerned how Sadie reassesses the modus operandi in the winery every decade. In introducing a new approach – a change in punch-downs or aging vessel, for example – he wants to pressure-test that technique under different growing seasons and/or with different people, in order to gauge if it should be a permanent feature. Since the 2019 vintage is the 20th anniversary of Sadie Family Wines, it prompted Sadie to look back. To take just one facet of winemaking, he sees the first decade as one where everything was destemmed, then a decade when whole bunch was almost mandatory. Going forward, he plans to adopt a more nuanced approach.

    “Whole cluster is such a huge debate at the moment. When you look at regional specifics, areas with very cool climates producing fruit with high acidity, low pH and often very low potassium are most suited to whole bunch. [Looking back at previous vintages] we found in the first decade that there was a level and sophistication of tannin that was better than in the second decade. It feels like a textural aspect was lost. The second finding was that the Swartland being low in acidity and high in potassium in the stems, compounded by the droughts, means that I don’t think Swartland is the best place for whole cluster. Therefore, for the Old Vine Series reds, we took the whole cluster down from 90% to 50% in 2019. We don’t do punch-downs but more like a délestage, so that is what we will do going forward.”

    We then drilled down to discuss individual wines within his Old Vine Series of releases, commencing with the reds.

    “With respect to the 2019 Soldaat, you might have noticed a vegetal aspect in the Grenache,” Sadie told me. “In late December we have started removing leaves around the bunches to remove that aspect. I like it, but I like very austere and ungiving wines. Pofadder is a pure Cinsault vineyard, one where I noticed that it crops much lower. I don’t subscribe to the view that low crops are necessarily the best, but here I think it is a good thing. The actual bunches are smaller. We used to get a lot of side bunches but they’ve not appeared in the last three years. That’s nothing that we have done.”

    Eben Sadie is a huge fan of Tinta Barocca and once he starts on the subject, you can do little to stop him.

    “The Tinta Barocca [the variety behind Trienspoor] has had the biggest leap in quality. I think it is the best grape planted in the Swartland but it’s an unknown. Even producers don’t know where to plant it. For the 2019 we had one tank completely destemmed and another half-destemmed, so it was 20% destemmed overall, though 2021 is completely destemmed. It has Piedmont-like tannins and Northern Rhône aromatics. The problem is that it has very low yields, which is why Portuguese growers did not plant it widely after the war, when they were getting paid per kilo. But it has such intensity of flavor that I have to stop my pickers from eating the grapes during harvest. The viticulture is much better in this vineyard now. Also, the aging is improved, using conical vats and one foudre to give a little more tannin.”

    Sadie is one of the rare breeds of winemakers with no qualms about admitting that he could have done better, even though personally, I construe it as a bit of serendipity.

    “The Skurfberg [pure Chenin Blanc] was maybe picked earlier than I wanted. The drought was at its peak and yields were down to 12hl/ha instead of 25-28hl/ha. We could have picked a week later, but we would have possibly killed the vines. Even picking earlier, some vines died because in some places there was just 118mm of rain, half the norm. So it has more acidity than normal, with a green line running through the wine. It’s very strict. I’ll be watching this wine out of the corner of my eye to see whether that earlier picking is something we should pursue. Mev. Kirsten is one of those wines where I talk with a pride that can border on arrogance. But there is no vineyard like it. It’s one of the most difficult soils that we farm – it gets so wet quickly and dries just as quick. We have put a lot of organic material in that vineyard over the last 10 years. From 2017 onward it has entered a completely different realm. I took a six-pack to Burgundy and poured it for some growers, and a couple said that it drinks like a Grand Cru. That’s a huge compliment. I’m so proud of the viticulture here. I would take Aubert de Villaine into that vineyard to show him.””

    Neal Martin, Vinous (04/21)

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  • Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile 2012


    “The 2012 Riesling Frédéric Emile starts clear, subtle and very elegant on the floral nose. Elegant, piquantly mineral and finesse-full on the palate, with a lot of Spiel and restrained power but also some petrol hints (?) this bottling shows a nice purity and a long and tension-filled finish. A real Trimbach classic to be enjoyed over the next 20+ years. Drink: 2018-2035. 93+ points

    Pierre Trimbach was in a hurry when he presented me the 2013 range along with some of the 2012s, which are still in the markets. However, 90 minutes wewa enough to learn that 2013 as well as 2014 were small vintages in terms of quantity, but at least the 2013s have an extraordinary good quality; namely, the age worthy Rieslings (with the world class Clos Sainte Hune on the top and the remarkably good Geisberg Grand Cru), but also the dry Gewurztraminers, especially the Réserve and the rarely produced Cuvée des Seigneurs Ribeaupierre, are impressively good. Pierre Trimbach calls 2012 “a classic vintage.” The sugar levels were “good though not exceptional.” Also, the acidity was “good — not as high as in 2010, 2013 and 2014, but better than in 2011.” Last but not least, the quantity is better than in 2010, 2013 and 2014. Some of the vines suffered from drought, but the Rieslings (which were mainly sourced in the southern part of the region) are of excellent quality and provided with a very good aging potential (which is important for a domaine that sells more than 50% Rieslings or 350,000 bottles).

    For Trimbach fans, it is important to know that the family has launched the first-ever terroir named wine, the 2009 Riesling Grand Cru Geisberg. Although I did not taste the 2009, I was impressed by the quality of the 2013 and rated it even higher than the iconic Cuvée Frédéric Emile (yet not so from the 2012 vintage). The grapes from the 2.6 ha plot on the Geisberg have always been part of the famous Cuvée, which has always been (and will remain) a blend of the Osterberg and Geisberg grands crus of Ribeauvillé. But since the nuns of the Couvent de Ribeauvillé, from whom the grapes have always being bought, insisted that the quality of the grapes were worth to be used for an exclusive Geisberg Grand Cru (“otherwise…”), Trimbach had to accept and so the domaine’s first declared Grand Cru was born.

    Most likely there will be a second Grand Cru soon. In 2012 the Trimbach family purchased a plot in the Kientzheim Grand Cru Schlossberg. Whereas the vintages 2012 and 2013 were finally blended with the classic Trimbach Riesling, the 2014 seems good enough to become Trimbach’s second Grand Cru. Pierre Trimbach: “We had to restore the vineyard first and force the roots to go deeper into the shallow granite soil, otherwise we would have big stress problems in dry vintages.”

    The Clos Sainte Hune, however, sourced from a 1.67 hectare small plot within the Rosacker Grand Cru that has been family-owned for more than 200 years, will remain what it is is — a brand wine. Consumers think it is a terroir wine anyway, and even when not, they will consider it as one of the finest dry Rieslings on planet wine.

    Trimbach fans should also include the domaine when it comes to detecting Alsace’s potential for great Pinot Noir. Trimbach’s Réserve Personelle (or Réserve Cuve 7 in France) is on a good way in any case.”

    Stephan Reinhardt, Wine Advocate (221)

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  • Valette Macon-Villages 2017


    “Aromas of minty green apples and citrus oil introduce the 2017 Mâcon-Villages, a medium to full-bodied, supple and fleshy wine that’s bright and layered, concluding with a saline finish. This bottling comes from comparatively young vines and is vinified and matured in tank. The 2017 is quite easy to understand and makes a great introduction to the wines of this fascinating and idiosyncratic domaine. Drinking window: 2019-2029. 89 points

    After years of trying, it was with great interest that I at last paid a visit to Philippe Valette’s elusive 8.5-hectare Chaintré estate. The Valette family were the first to exit the local cooperative, and they rapidly won a reputation for rich, concentrated wines that were frequently celebrated in the pages of this publication. On leaving school in 1990, Philippe began to convert the domaine to organic farming, and since 1992, their wines have never been chaptalized. Influenced by a meeting with Pierre Overnoy, Valette has come to identify with the natural wine movement, and today, his wines see little or no sulfur and increasingly long élevage—indeed, the 2006 Clos de Monsieur Noly spent fully 12 years in barrel. If the estate’s wines through the late 1990s were simply powerful, textural examples of high-quality white Burgundy (notes on several will appear in the next installment of Up From the Cellar), the wines being released today belong in a category of their own. Complex and sapid, I find them fascinating, but readers should be prepared to find wines that are quite different from any of the Valettes’ neighbors. Anyone who appreciates the Jura bottlings of Jean-François Ganevat or the Thomas Pico Chablis wines is likely to love them! My experience is that they often benefit from extended aeration, and I tend to decant Valette’s wines or follow them over several days.”

    William Kelley, Wine Advocate (244)

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  • Veronica Ortega Cal 2018


    “One of the very few Bierzo wines from limestone soils and the only white I know of is the amazing 2018 VO Cal. It’s from a year when ripening was slow, so the grapes ripened thoroughly and the acidity is more integrated. This is still 12.5% alcohol and has seven grams of acidity with a pH of 3.1—a white of moderate alcohol and vibrant freshness, plus the freshness and sapid sensation of the limestone (“cal” is the Spanish word for lime). This matured 50% in barrique and 50% in amphorae/tinaja for one year. This is perhaps not as radical as 2017; this is the first vintage when the wine went through malolactic fermentation, so the profile is a little different, a little more approachable, but with the austere profile and the salinity of the limestone. This perhaps has more depth and more weight and is probably going to age for a longer time. The nose has the textbook chamomile aromas and palate keeps the citrus and saline character. It’s vibrant, layered and complex. It’s clean and evolves slowly in the glass, so it should develop slowly in the bottle too. 3,413 bottles were filled in December 2019. Drink: 2020-2027. 95+ points

    Verónica Ortega has found some more new vineyards in Cobrana and has a new light red, Kinki, and she continues working organically in the vineyards, producing characterful wines that reflect the places, grapes and vintages. Her white is the best in the appellation. All plots ferment with full clusters in open-top oak vats or plastic bins, but the larger volume red Quite ferments destemmed in stainless steel. The wines mature in amphorae, different sized barrels and oak vats. Veronica produced 45,000 bottles in 2018. 2016 needed time, 2017 was very challenging with up to three different flowerings in some places (there was no frost in Cal or Cobrana), and 2018 is like a more-complete version of 2016. 2018 was an unusual year. The vines were recovering from the frost of 2017, and the grapes ripened very slowly. Harvest was also late and slow, and Verónica described it as a Galician profile. Analytically, there is not a lot of acidity, but the wines are fresh; she calls 2018 “the most Atlantic of recent vintages.” 2019 was drier and a little warmer/riper than 2018, but quite similar anyway, with wines with a little more structure and acidity.”

    Luis Gutierrez, Wine Advocate (06/20)

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  • Vie di Romans Dessimis Pinot Grigio 2019


    “Speaking with Gianfranco Gallo of Vie di Romans was an incredibly educational experience. It’s not rare to see a winemaker speak with passion and knowledge about their region and craft, but it is rare to meet one who will spend more time talking to you about their region, it’s history and the importance of the surrounding territories in depth, before even mentioning a single accomplishment of their own. That said, accomplishments abound at this estate. Gianfranco Gallo took over the management in 1978, and he quickly began to reorganize the vineyards with a quality-over-quantity approach in mind. His goal was to create cleaner wines that could stand the test of time, but also to begin bottling individual expressions from each vineyard, which started with the 1990 vintage. It was also around this time that he decided to begin holding the wines back for an extra year in the winery cellar, a practice that was unheard of by most producers in the region. When asked when he was finally happy with the changes that were made over the course of the last forty years, keeping in mind that he had been rethinking his vineyard philosophies and re-tuning them through the 2000 vintage, Gallo explained that it was only ten years ago. Having said that, Vie di Romans remains very proud of the ageability of the wines and their library of back vintages. When I think back to my first experience with the portfolio, it was around 2011 and I was tasting a 2004 Chardonnay, which was in a beautiful place at the time. Another challenge that we spoke of is global warming, which again has the winery rethinking vineyard practices in an attempt to slow ripening. It was explained that a ripening process that at one time took fifty days can now happen in only thirty, which would greatly reduce the quality of the fruit. Having said all of this, there’s certainly a glimmer of hope when tasting through this portfolio, which remains, unmistakably Vie di Romans in quality and character.”

    Eric Guido, Vinous (01/21)

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  • Wine & Soul Pintas 2016


    “The 2016 Pintas is a field blend from old vines aged for 20 months in 30% new French oak. It comes in at 14% alcohol. Not quite bottled when seen, this was out of cask and the final blend. Aggressive in its youth, this also seems wonderfully fresh, with enticing and lifted fruit, plus a big, lingering finish filled with flavor. Very tight, this is going to need a couple of years to come around—and much longer to acquire complexity—but the tannins are not overly hard. It will still be approachable fairly young. This is another super Pintas, a great follow-up to the 2015. Better? Maybe, although this is a little hard to read. We’ll see as they both settle in over the next few years. The typical generalization in Douro on the two vintages is that the 2015s are a little fresher and more elegant, while the 2016s are a little more concentrated—granting many exceptions. For her part, Sandra Tavares said this had a bit more depth, while the 2015 had a bit more charm. Ultimately, they are different sides of the same coin, pretty close to one another in style. Both seem rather brilliant. As they age, we’ll have fun seeing who wins. Drink: 2022-2046. 95-97 points”

    Mark Squires, Wine Advocate (238)

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  • Yarra Yering Chardonnay 2017


    Review to follow

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  • Yarra Yering Dry Red No 2 2015


    Review to follow

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  • Yarra Yering Pinot Noir 2016


    Review to follow

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  • Yarra Yering Underhill Shiraz 2013


    Review to follow

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  • Zuccardi Finca Piedra Infinita Malbec 2015


    “As with the whole collection of 2015s from the high end, the single-vineyard 2015 Finca Piedra Infinita reveals a gobsmacking selection from shallow soils that produce super austere Malbec wines with reticent noses, with more influence from the vinification with full clusters and less oak than ever. The palate shows marked influence from the limestone soils. As I’ve seen in some of these top reds from Argentina, this is not about the variety at all, it’s about the soils. And in this case, the wine even seems to transcend the vintage character, as their work has gained so much in precision that the wines are better every year. Where will the limit be? 2015 was not an easy year, yet the wine is better than ever. With time in the glass, the aromas that emerge are more about the herbs in the countryside than fruit—rockrose, thyme, etc. It has to be the finest wine I have ever tasted from Zuccardi. Beautiful. But 2016 should be coming next… 5,000 bottles were filled in December 2016. Drink: 2018-2030. 98 points

    Zuccardi keeps going from strength to strength and is doing incredible work in the vineyards. They have bought some 35 hectares of land in Gualtallary and are going to plant plots there. The wines keep reflecting the incredible R+D work they do. The Aluvional and Polígonos wines are not only superb, they also have an incredible price for the quality and character they deliver. And the top-of-the-range wines are better than ever, even in a challenging year like 2015. Zuccardi is clearly among the top wineries of the country—and improving each year. Bravo!”

    Luis Gutierrez, Wine Advocate (237)

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