Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage and Cornas are Syrah powerhouses, and all three expressed themselves to their utmost in the excellent 2015 vintage in the Northern Rhône. See the results of our recent panel tasting below, and read an introduction by Matt Walls...
This time last year I asked Philippe Guigal, the kingpin of Côte-Rôtie, if he could compare 2015 to another year. He had to reach back well beyond his own winemaking experience. ‘My dad would say 1961,’ Guigal replied, ‘and he also talks about the 1945s and the 1929s.’
Northern Rhône winemakers tend to be self-effacing when describing their wines, but while tasting the 2015s from barrel, superlatives flowed across the region.Quick Link: View all 87 wines from this panel tasting
See also: Top scoring Rhône 2016 wines
Related content: Northern Rhône 2016: Full report and wines to look for
Find out where to look in the Northern Rhône 2016 vintage..Southern Rhône 2016: ‘Unmissable’ wines and full report
A vintage 'not to miss' says Matt Walls...An interview and tasting with Jean-Louis Chave
John Livingstone-Learmonth catches up with Rhône royalty, Jean-Louis Chave...
Should Brunello be made more like a Burgundy or a Bordeaux? Producers have tried both approaches over the years, says Monty Waldin, but have now acquired the knowledge and confidence to plough their own furrow...Tenute Silvio Nardi's Manarchiara vineyards, with Montalcino in the distance.
Plucking leaves from around ripening Sangiovese bunches to create Brunellos with exotic, California-style ripeness was in vogue. But it left the vines looking like they’d had an extreme bikini-line wax. And exposing Sangiovese’s sensitive skins to the full glare of the Mediterranean sun risked vaporising its savoury sour cherry flavours into baked jam.Monty Waldin is a widely published wine writer, author and DWWA Regional Chair for Tuscany
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The appeal of the Hunter Valley is broad, says Mike Bennie, who picks some of the top wineries to visit...Tyrrell's vineyardsHunter Valley wineries to visit
More than 150 wineries and inviting cellar doors punctuate meandering country drives, offering a broad spectrum from cosy boutique tasting rooms to state-of-the-art facilities.
Alongside the wine offering, there are world-class golf courses, varied dining opportunities, pastoral drives, hiking, cheese and chocolate tastings, breweries, distilleries and adventure activities.
Travel distances are typically short drives – manageable by bicycle in some cases.
Getting there: The Hunter Valley is a 2.5-hour drive from Sydney airport; otherwise, Pokolbin is an hour’s drive from Newcastle airport.Where to eat and drink in Sydney Tyrrell’s
No visit to the Hunter Valley should exclude a visit to Tyrrell’s. Here, living history is writ large from the first breach of the driveway. The bitumen road to the cellar door is flanked by some of the Hunter Valley’s oldest vines – the landmark wines 4 Acres and Vat 9 find their genesis in these storied vineyards. The 140-plus-year-old plots are an easy stroll from the winery car park, and a must-see for wine enthusiasts.
Tyrrell’s conducts a cellar tour and tasting, which is also not to be missed – visitors are able to tread the dirt floors that six generations of the family have walked, and visit the old, large-format barrel cellar that houses Tyrrell’s flagship wines for maturation.Mount Pleasant
A visit to the charming Mount Pleasant cellar door makes for a neat pairing in the historical stakes. The McWilliam family is custodian of this great estate, which was home to arguably Australia’s most significant winemaker, Maurice O’Shea. He established Mount Pleasant in 1921, partnering with the McWilliams in the 1930s to expand vineyard holdings.
O’Shea’s wines are still renowned for their longevity, with wines from the 1940s and early 1950s considered some of Australia’s greatest and most sought-after. The current suite of wines from Mount Pleasant, under the guidance of the multi-awarded winemaker Jim Chatto, are heading on a similar trajectory.Thomas Wines
Andrew Thomas of the eponymous Thomas Wines dazzled the Australian wine community with his pristine Semillons and inky Shiraz releases from single vineyards.
His departure in style, and yet myopic adherence to the Hunter Valley’s calling-card grape varieties, is one of the great stories of the Hunter’s recent wine history.
Thommo, as he’s known, is often found outside his sleek cellar door, cigarette and beer in hand, ready for a chat about his wines.
He’s one of the great winemakers, and characters, of the Hunter Valley.De Iuliis
Nearby you’ll find his contemporary, Mike De Iuliis, a second-generation wine-grower of Italian background; his De Iuliis’ cellar door blends modern styling and rustic charm.
The architect-designed tasting room is bathed in natural light, with a backdrop of native fauna framing the space. Wines here follow both the cutting-edge and more traditional line, with tannin-driven Nebbiolo and crunchy blends of Shiraz and Touriga Nacional sitting alongside the regional stalwarts of single-vineyard Shiraz and fine-boned Semillon.
Tastings here are completed with a visit to the intriguingly named Two Fat Blokes Gourmet Kitchen, which specialises in cheese and charcuterie.Krinklewood
Rod and Pete Windrim are a father-son wine-growing operation, and the region’s leading biodynamic farmers. Their homely cellar door is a neat counterpoint to much of the Hunter’s rising architectural glamour.Brokenwood
Go for a late-afternoon appointment at Brokenwood, which has a compelling offering in both local wines and those from elsewhere in Australia.Small Winemakers Centre
Alternatively, call in to the neighbouring collective of wine producers at Small Winemakers Centre , which gives voice to those without resource for a cellar-door operation of their own.
Innovative, new-to-Hunter Valley grape varieties, expressive blends and a youthful enthusiasm are driving a new generation of Hunter Valley wine producers.
The Hunter Valley offers something for every globetrotting wine lover: the luxurious and the homely; the historic and modern; and, above all, truly world-class wines.
Originally published in the January 2018 issue of Decanter. Edited for Decanter.com by Ellie Douglas.
Mike Bennie is a wine writer, editor-at-large of Australian reviews site www.winefront.com.au, and co-founder of Sydney’s Rootstock festival.Find more Decanter travel guides here.
A gin boom has seen the number of UK distilleries more than double in the last five years, to 315, with 49 new distillers starting up in 2017, according to customs figures released this week. But how much do you know about tasting gin? Amy Wislocki asked experts for some pointers...Forget the highball glass for gin & tonic, you need something like this.
Sometimes a refreshing gin & tonic is the perfect way to celebrate finishing a hard day, and there has never been more choice in the UK.
Even English wineries are getting involved, with Chapel Down recently launching a grape-based gin and Foxhole Spirits based at Bolney Estate, although operated as a separate business.
But how do you taste gin in the best way to appreciate its character and complexity? We spoke to three people working for premium gin brands to get their advice.The glass
First, the glass. The traditional highball, it seems, just doesn’t cut the mustard – it’s the equivalent of the notorious Paris goblet in the wine world.
There’s a move towards using the copa, popularised in Spain, as it allows more room for swirling and sniffing.
Tom Warner of brand Warner Edwards, favours a large red wine glass for drinking his G&T.
‘You still get enough volume for ice, gin and tonic, but for me it provides a better drinking experience in terms of aroma and flavour,’ he said.Don’t make yourself nose blind
When sampling gin, nose and taste it first at room temperature, and neat.
‘It will allow the nuances of the gin to be most apparent, though it will mean the alcohol will feel at its most powerful,’ said Brockmans UK brand ambassador Mike Whatmough. ‘But always sip, don’t shoot – take your time.’
‘Over-sniffing neat samples can lead to you going “nose blind” though, so make sure you give your nose a break,’ warned Warner, who also advocates doing this before you add tonic.What to look for on the palate
‘Gin tends to be powerfully flavoured, so there’s no need to draw air through the liquid to your palate, but rolling the spirit around your mouth to coat it before swallowing will enable you to fully taste it.’
‘In a similar way to wine tasting, on both nose and palate you are looking for balance (in this case, between botanicals), length and complexity,’ said Whatmough.
‘You should have a journey between the top and bottom notes. Well crafted, well distilled gin should be smooth when tasted neat, with the warmth felt in your chest and not under your eyes! Then how does it mix with tonic? Are the botanicals overwhelmed by quinine or do they mix perfectly to give a rounded, refreshing drink?’
Dominic Limberry, of D1 London Gin, said that you should be looking for a clean flavour profile where you can set apart the botanical components. A high quality base spirit will provide a clear background; a “burn” on the palate is indicative of lower-quality spirit.
If you’re tasting with tonic, Limberry recommends low-calorie tonic: ‘It takes a back seat,’ he said. ‘The sugar in full-fat tonic can suppress the flavour profile.’
Do it yourself
A good way of holding your own tasting would be to get a range of gins with different botanical mixes.
It is becoming increasingly common in the ‘craft’ gin movement for distillers to publish details about the botanicals used, even if the precise recipes remain secret.
You can then experiment with garnishes that work well with the botanicals in a particular gin.
Amy Wislocki attended the 2017 Telegraph Gin Experience at Kensington Roof Gardens in London for this article.
Decanter's Christelle Guibert attended the Musar masterclass at November's Decanter Fine Wine Encounter, tasting wines stretching back to 1974...Marc Hochar hosts the Musar masterclass at 2017's Decanter Fine Wine Encounter.
Wine has been made in Lebanon for more than 6,000 years, but in the modern era its wines were unheard of on the international wine scene – until the pioneering work of Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar.
Over the course of a winemaking career spanning more than fifty years, and undeterred by the backdrop of the 15 year Lebanese war (1975-1990), Serge produced a series of stellar wines, transforming the profile of the country in the process.Scroll down to see Christelle’s tasting notes from the masterclass
Musar’s story begins in the 1920s, when Serge’s father, Gaston, left for France to study medicine and in the process discovered a real love for wine.
Upon his return in 1930 he founded Chateau Musar. When his son Serge took over in 1959, winemaking remained the same – a non-interventionist ‘natural’ style, vinified with wild yeasts and using minimal sulphur. All now very fashionable, but back then natural wine was unheard of.The concept of blending
When Gaston Hochar started out he had no red grapes, as phylloxera had ravaged them all, and the only grapes left were white.
However, a friendship with Major Ronald Barton of châteaux Leoville and Langoa-Barton, in Bordeaux, inspired him to plant Cabernet Sauvignon.
As Serge’s son, Marc, admitted, ‘Cabernet has a masculine structure; we use Cabernet but we want to hide it. When it is young, it has too much tannin and it stays on the fruit for a very long time, so you have to wait many years before it can develop. But you need Cabernet for the ageing ability’.
With 300 hours of sunshine a year, he also needed a grape resistant to heat, and so Gaston introduced Cinsault, which brings a floral element to the blend.
It is these two grape varieties that form the base of all the red wines produced here.Continue reading below Chateau Musar wines at the masterclass: Divisive
Chateau Musar makes characterful and distinctive wines, whose style can divide opinions. The wines are made naturally, often with high levels of volatile acidity and/or brett, which can be seen as an imperfection for some or as a living element for others.
They can differ immensely from vintage to vintage too: some years, such as 1999, can bring to mind Bordeaux, while other years, such as 1974, are more Burgundian. Yet others are reminiscent of northern Rhône.
During the 1960s, Serge kept back 50% of the production; he already knew they had the potential to age incredibly well, and today Chateau Musar has stock of well over one million bottles in their cellars in Ghazir.
These are legendary wines, born in a country which, for Marc, ‘is not part of the new world or the old world, but part of the ancient world’.Related content:
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Jane Anson meets a hotly tipped young winemaker who has already produced one of the most expensive wines in the world.Jesse Katz hard at work.
In recent years, the world’s most expensive wines have included a bottle of Château Margaux 1787, which you might remember was valued at $225,000 after being spilled by wine merchant William Sokolin at the Four Seasons hotel in New York, a 1947 Cheval Blanc that was auctioned in Geneva for $305,000, and an Imperial (six litres) of 1992 Screaming Eagle that went for $500,000 back in 2008.
In November of last year, a new wine leapt on to this list. Not a Bordeaux First Growth, or a Napa superstar, but a single bottle of an unknown wine from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley – specifically a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend called The Setting, that was sold for $350,000.
It was sold, admittedly, during the Carnivale du Vin’s charity auction (similar to the Screaming Eagle that managed its $500,000 during the Napa Valley Wine Auction), which changes the dynamics of pricing. And no doubt its attraction can be partly explained by the fact that it was donated and signed by Shep Gordon, the ultimate celebrity agent who has been described as Supermensch in Mike Myers’ 2013 documentary, ‘the most famous unfamous man in the world’ by GQ and ‘the godfather of everything’ by Rolling Stone.
But the wine’s success was also, in no small part, due to its winemaker Jesse Katz. He’s not as well known in Europe as in the States, but it’s only a matter of time. Barely into his 30s, Katz was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2014, at the age of 29, four years after he became America’s youngest head winemaker (24 at time of hiring) for Lancaster Estate in Alexander Valley – ironically after a 16-month stint at Screaming Eagle. This was partly what had got him the Forbes nod, the first winemaker to do so in their Food and Drink awards, because he had managed to grow Lancaster’s Roth brand by over 800 per cent in five years – and also seen the $28 Roth Pinot Noir take first place in a blind tasting of over 80 pinots from Burgundy, Oregon, New Zealand and California at the annual Pigs & Pinot celebration in Healdsburg.
I first met Katz in Bordeaux back in March 2016, when I was working on a book with his photographer father Andy Katz. He was over here taking a course on terroir and vineyard management with Professor Kees van Leeuwen at Bordeaux university (and had previously done a stint working at Petrus), and we shared a pot of Earl Grey tea at the Grand Hotel. Or maybe I drank tea and he drank cocktails with his dad, that part I don’t quite remember.
What I do remember is getting to taste his Devil’s Proof Malbec later that week, and thinking he had pretty much nailed what can be an extremely difficult grape to tease elegance out of. And then meeting him again in New York and witnessing the pretty mensch-like reaction that he gets when he walks in a room. The kind of reaction that is accorded to just a few winemakers; I can think of Christophe Salin, for one, Angelo Gaja certainly, Peter Gago… there are others, but you can count them on one hand.
So, the news of his latest success left me wondering if the pressure was going to get too much. Where will he go from creating one of the world’s most expensive wines?
It seems the answer to that lies in finding something that is entirely his own. Until this year, Katz has been making an array of wines (three of his own labels in the shape of Aperture, Devil’s Proof and Aesthete, along with almost a dozen wines for other people, from Shep Gordon to Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel), working across four different locations. In 2019, he will be opening – along with his dad and business partner Andy – Aperture Cellars winery, on 40 acres of land that he purchased two miles outside of Healdsburg, with 32 acres of vines. All of his wines will be made in this one location, where he will also live.
‘The buzz that came with The Setting,’ he says, ‘just proved what I always believed about Sonoma. That it is capable to making some of the truly great wines of the world’.
Living and working in one place – essentially the domaine or chateau model – also takes him back to where wine really began for Katz, which was in Burgundy. He grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and had apparently visited 80 countries alongside his dad by the time he left school. The first wine trip was to Napa and Sonoma when Andy was writing a book on the then-fledgling regions with Robert Mondavi, but it was in Burgundy on another book trip that he really fell in love with wine.
‘I had become friends with Olivier Leflaive,’ Andy tells me, ‘and he had these two beautiful daughters who were a little older than Jesse, who was maybe 14 at the time. I pretty much didn’t see him for two days, and when he came back he said, ‘dad this wine thing is amazing’.’
‘I had a profound realisation while in Burgundy,’ says Jesse, good-naturedly picking up the story that he has no doubt heard recounted many times, ‘that the same grape and same vintage could have such different expressions according to the village that it came from. I fell in love with the culture of the whole thing’.
‘Today I get that same feeling of diversity in Sonoma. It is such a special place, with masses of options for a winemaker, microclimates ranging from colder-than-Champagne to warmer-than-Bordeaux, with a great diversity of soils. We’re 25 years behind Napa in terms of site selection in Sonoma, which means there is still lots of untapped land and potential – it’s really an evolving art. Pinot producers have seen that, and we are just starting to witness the high-end Cabernet producers moving in also to places like Alexander Valley (where Katz makes Devil’s Proof at SJ Ranch), with its well-drained red volcanic soils and low organic matter. We get warm days there but really cool nights with a fog line that has cleared by 8am allowing the days to heat up fast. It gives powerful but fresh wines that I love’.
It’s going to be tough to get Aperture and Devil’s Proof wines for a while – these are small batch and they sell out quickly (he calls them ‘small brands that work hard’). But they are worth searching out, combining as they do the best of the Old and New World, delivering a powerful punch but well sculpted with natural balance and no acidification or other cellar tricks. The Malbecs are dry-farmed, the Cabernets as close as he can get them, everything bottled unfiltered and unfined.
‘I want to keep showcasing what we can do here, keep pushing the sense of place and the importance of site selection’.
This is a winemaker who’s just getting started.Read more Jane Anson columns on Decanter.com