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The MW Award Ceremony

I had thought that I wasn’t going to write anything about the MW award ceremony as it felt like it would be difficult to not make it all sound rather self congratulatory. However as I’ve subjected Sniff’s readers to some of the trials and tribulations experienced over the last couple of years of my passage through the MW program, it seemed somewhat disingenuous of me not to finish it off with a brief piece on the denouement itself.

As always, the memories of the event that will remain forever etched on my consciousness are the spirit of friendliness and welcome that were on constant display from the other MW’s (both new and old) in attendance, and the feeling of joy that pervaded the whole occasion both pre, during and post the ceremony itself. It is hard not to be impressed by many of my fellow MW’s so wide is their scope of experience and impact on the wine world in which I’ve chosen to seek (and sometimes eek) out a living. It was such a pleasure to celebrate in the company of Mick O’Connell MW, a man whose ebullience and bonhomie is a lesson and a pick-me-up to any of a more dour disposition and I feel honoured to have started and finished my studies with him. It was also a pleasure to see the humble incredulity of Mary Margaret McCamic MW as she was awarded the Bollinger Medal for being the best taster in the exams as well as picking up the gong for best overall student. I want to say something like ‘that young lady will go far’ but of course, she already has; chapeau Mary!

It was also heartening to see so many new MW’s of different nationalities, and I make no apologies for my obvious bias in being so pleased to see the Asian MW contingent further strengthened by the success of Sonal Holland MW (India) and Fongyee Walker MW (China); their countries are fortunate to have them. But any event that purports to be a celebration of its newest members rather than simply an opportunity to collect a certificate, needs to focus its energies accordingly. Having never attended one in the past I cannot vouch for how these gigs have historically functioned but what I can say is that our ceremony overseen by the Institute’s always effusive and eminently personable Executive Director, Penny Richards and the new Chair, Jane Masters MW, was a master-class in the delivery of revelry. From the moment we were paraded from the back of the high ceilinged, wood panelled, Livery Hall (literally rebuilt from the ashes of the Great Fire of London), past friends, family and fellow MWs, whilst they whooped and cheered as we made our way to the front two rows; to Penny Richards, her voice cracking as she introduced each of the new membership in turn; to the drinks party that followed that provided the opportunity for much hugging and further introductions; the evening was nothing less than joyful.

On a very personal note this was also the first time I had the chance to meet my Research Paper mentor, Alison Eisermann MW, someone who could not have been more helpful as I tried to finish my studies with a flourish rather than a whimper.

Lastly I just want to say how lucky I feel. There are many extremely talented and impressive people with whom I started my MW studies and many of them will experience that beautiful walk through the Livery Hall whilst their nearest and dearest holler their appreciation; I look forward to celebrating with you and promise that I’ll be the one shouting the loudest.



我原本不打算針對葡萄酒大師(Master of Wine,簡稱MW)的頒獎典禮寫任何文章,因為無論怎麼下筆,似乎都免不了顯得自我吹捧。然而,我想就某方面而言,過去數年來,Sniff的讀者已和我一同踏上了準備MW的旅程,因此現在若不以一篇短文為這段回憶劃下句點,反而顯得我不夠坦率。

在頒獎典禮中,我印象最深刻的,是那些來自新舊MW們所展現的親切與歡迎,以及我自己在典禮前、中、後所感受到的喜悅。我很難不欽佩這些葡萄酒大師們的專業經驗,以及他們對於葡萄酒世界的影響;這是個我試圖在其中生存,卻也時常倍感艱辛的世界。而能夠與熱情洋溢的Mick O’Connell MW一同慶祝,更是一大殊榮。他的好脾氣與樂觀態度,總能成功感染周圍的人,讓人一掃心中陰霾。能和他一同開始並完成多年來的學習,我深感榮幸。除此之外,見證Mary Margaret McCamic MW如何因為追根究底的精神,讓她在這次考試中獲頒成為Bollinger Medal獎項的最佳品飲人,更接續成為本年度MW畢業生中成績最優異者,著實令我想要說出「這年輕女孩未來想必有驚人的成就」之類的話。只不過,不用我說,她早已經是了。我要向Mary脫帽致敬!這次頒獎典禮上另一個鼓舞人心之處,莫過於來自多個國籍的新科MW,其中不乏印度籍的Sonal Holland MW與中國籍的趙鳳儀(Fongyee Walker MW);這更令對於亞洲有深刻情感的我,感到開心不已。能有這兩位做為MW代表,無疑是印度與中國的榮幸。

當然,任何旨在慶祝新成員加入、而非純粹收集證照的頒獎活動,肯定要展現出一定的活力才行。不曾參加過MW頒獎典禮的我,無從得知過去這類活動是如何舉辦。但我可以確定的是,這場在葡萄酒大師機構熱情洋溢的執行董事Penny Richards與新上任董事長Jane Masters MW監督之下的頒獎典禮,儼然已成為一場狂歡享樂的大師講堂。今年的頒獎典禮於天花板挑高並設計有護木飾板的Livery Hall中舉行;這裡是17世紀知名的倫敦大火後重建而成。我們一行新科MW被安排由大廳尾端緩步向前行,途中經過兩側親朋好友與其它MW熱情的歡呼、叫喊與掌聲,宛如一場遊行一般,最後到達大廳前兩排座椅區,停在Penny Richards面前,聽她高聲宣布著每一位新加入的MW與背景。典禮結束後接踵而來的酒會,更是充滿了親吻、擁抱,與互相介紹,讓這一晚滿是歡欣。

其實,我是到了這一天才頭一回見到我的研究論文指導教授Alison Eisermann MW。在我完成MW證照的期間,她無疑是給了我最多幫助的一位,讓我最終能夠成功來到如今的一步,而非暗自啜泣。

最後,我只想說自己有多麼地幸運。和我一同開始準備MW的,還有許多才華洋溢且出眾的朋友們,其中有許多位也會在不久的將來,體驗到穿越Livery Hall時,接受親友歡呼慶祝的喜悅。我很期待與你們一同慶祝,也已經準備好要成為呼聲最大的那位。(編譯 / 艾蜜・emily)

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Mark Pygott MW

Thirty nine and a half hours on from being told that I was an MW the frustrating but equally exciting thought pervading my mind is “What’s next?” Having heard about some of the more extravagant celebrations embarked upon by previous newly minted MW’s, I had half expected to find these first few days given over to drinking my own weight in Champagne, but this scenario never materialised. It’s certainly true that Messieurs Paillard and Perignon have popped in to say ‘hello’ and I enjoyed their effervescent personalities enormously, but ever the pragmatist (I’m a Virgo), I realised that such a pursuit would soon have kicked a major dent in my cash-flow whilst also requiring a Jeroboam of Pepto-Bismol to relieve my acid ravaged innards.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not bothered, I am, very, but it is a sense of relief rather than outright elation that predominates. As my wife rightly pointed out when I questioned why I wasn’t throwing shapes and punching the air every five seconds, firstly I’m nearly 45 (true), I’m a Virgo (this we have already established) and just imagine what a miserable bastard I would have been if I’d not got the result about which I’d dared to dream.

The truth is that there is only so much self-congratulatory backslapping one can engage in before not only is your back sore but people start actively crossing the road to get out of your way as you thrash away at the space between your shoulder-blades. Life moves on, work piles up and the laundry basket needs emptying.

When I started the MW four years ago, I was determined to pass and assumed that if I threw enough dogged stubbornness at it then that would suffice. Some looking at my achievement may decide that this was indeed enough, that bloody-mindedness won the day. But like one of the equations in my daughter’s maths textbook, the answer alone does not reveal the layers of working out that helped pave the way to success. Without the help of all the people in the wine industry from whom I’ve sought advice, without the incredible generosity and support of my fellow students, without the encouragement and ego re-building words of current MW’s and without a family that allowed me to plan every holiday around the proximity to wine regions I wanted to explore, then I’d have achieved nothing. So how do I feel? Lucky, very lucky, time for some Bollinger.


For past posts on my quest for the MW simply search for ‘MW’.

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The Cost of Studying for the Master of Wine

With MW exam week in full flow I was asked by a fellow student how much I had spent since I was accepted onto the course in October 2012. Whilst I have not documented every pound, dollar or euro allocated to my studies, estimating my financial investment was certainly easier than quantifying the opportunity cost of the time and effort that I have expended over the last forty-four months.

Some commentators, as I mentioned in a previous post, are insistent that the MW is an elitist institution and part of that reasoning is derived from the belief that it is frighteningly expensive. Well my approximate but still fairly accurate summation is that I have spent between $45 & 50,000 US dollars. Seeing it in print in one lump sum my first reaction is to agree with the Institute’s detractors but if this is the figure of an Institution that prices people out of the opportunity to participate, then so does every University in the UK. Education is not cheap and whilst my expenditure may make some blanche, the fixed costs of undertaking the MW are significantly less than the total figure I have outlined.

Course fees and exam fees are mandatory and the easiest way to keep these to a minimum is to pass everything first time, meaning that from acceptance to becoming a member of the Institute is achieved in three years. Do this and the costs at today’s prices are less than $18,000 USD. My fixed costs have totalled $25,000 USD because I needed two attempts to pass the practical element of the exam. Most of my other costs have been incurred through the need to travel and living in Taiwan means that this has cost me significantly more than for those students who live near the examination centres and vineyards of Europe, the Western United States and Australasia.

Expenditure on wine for tasting is a fascination for many as they assume the expense to be gargantuan. Luckily, I really didn’t spend that much. One of my roles is as a wine educator and this enabled me to tailor tastings that suited both student and my own needs equally. I was also a member of a brilliant tasting group that helped both share the cost whilst boosting my learning. My studies have also corresponded with the emergence of the Coravin wine preservation system that allowed me to taste the same wine over and over without ever pulling the cork. Lastly I think that many people over taste, seeking solace in the notion that spending small fortunes must be making them better tasters. Unfortunately volume tasted does not necessarily correlate with a similar or equal increase in learning.

For those taking their exams this week I have no doubt that the cost of the MW will be a long way from their collective minds as they wrestle their way through twenty-one hours of essay writing and tasting. The MW is the sort of pursuit that just gnaws at certain people’s psyches until they feel that they must give it a go. As somebody so afflicted I have found it to be money well spent.

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The Research Paper

The third part of the MW examination is the ‘Research Paper’ (RP), this recently replaced the ‘Dissertation’ (the previous incarnation of this, the final piece in the MW’s triptych of pain), which had become so mired in its own convolution, with too many students marooned on dissertation island waiting for an MW to appear on the horizon who might usefully guide them in the direction of a pass, that many in the Institute had wanted it eliminated entirely. At the Institute’s AGM in the autumn of 2013, where an abandonment of the third part to the exam was seriously mooted, you might think that I would have been praying for a shortening of the process, but you’d be wrong. When they announced the new format, with the newly engineered ‘RP’ as the vehicle of choice, I was glad that I’d get the chance to study, in depth, a topic of my own volition.

I am currently six thousand words into my RP and by the time you read this, the first draft will be complete. As with all the academic pursuits ever inflicted upon my pea-sized brain, the initial angst I felt as I began the process of focused learning with all its necessary questioning and detailed reading and referencing led me to question why I bother. But however much my brow may furrow, I know that deep down I enjoy the quest. I like asking people stuff about stuff I am interested in and I’m definitely interested in wine and the people who make it. Whether my studiousness will be reflected in the Institute giving me the nod in September is of course unknown but whatever the result the feeling that this trial by wine is slowly coming to an end is one that leaves me with mixed emotions.

I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever met studying for these two letters and not just students and MW’s but ‘normal’ people too. It has also led to me thinking about a subject (wine) in a more intellectual way than I have ever before experienced. It is also a deeply humbling pursuit, perhaps hard learning always is, and the realisation that I know so much more than I did whilst knowing how much more there remains to be learned leaves me feeling both elevated and yet more clueless than ever before. But I won’t miss the deadlines and I won’t missing calling myself  a student, at 44 years of age I’ll be happy to just be considered an adult.




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Is the IMW Elitist?

Once upon a time, being an MW meant that you really were a member of a very exclusive club. From the year of the first examination in 1953 until the first woman, Sarah Morphew Stephen, passed in 1970, members were exclusively English men. Since then the barriers to entry have steadily eroded. The first move that really changed the Institute’s dynamic was the acceptance of non-trade participants in 1984. This meant that those not necessarily involved in the selling of wine such as journalists or winemakers could apply for entry to the course (famously Jancis Robinson was the first beneficiary of this alteration to the rules). The second significant amendment was the slow but steady increasing internationalisation of the student body. In 1992 the education program and examinations were both delivered and held on three continents for the first time, expanding the Institute’s reach and making the course more accessible to a much wider geographical intake.

So what? Well although this London based Institution retains a majority of UK based members, with the last count revealing just over 200 living in the Institute’s homeland, there are also 140 other MW’s plying their trade in 23 different countries.

So is the Institute elitist? I raise the question of elitism as I was party to a conversation suggesting as much on a recent trip to South Africa. The English journalist offering this view became increasingly indignant once I challenged his line of argument by suggesting that being bloody hard work (which is what studying for the MW entails) was not the same as elitist. Once he discovered I was a student as well as a resident of Taiwan, he found great joy in explaining to me how much easier it would be for me to pass my exams. He argued that living in a country with no current MW would result in the Institute being keen to make me a member, implying that I would not be assessed with the same rigour to which my fellow students would be subject. I explained calmly, controlling my rising ire, that students are marked not by name but by candidate number (in other words anonymously) but he was not keen to let facts get in the way of his determination to make his point.

So, once more, is the Institute elitist? No, but the standard is the standard and that makes the path to membership extremely difficult. Could there be more members from different countries? Of course, and the fact that this is an English Institution that offers examinations exclusively in English, clearly prevents some from being able to participate (although you can write the theory exams in your native tongue).

Finally I must talk about the cost as people are constantly telling me that the course is frighteningly expensive. Last year the course fees (which include a week long residential), plus the exam fees, plus the amount I spent on wine for tasting and international travel to the seminar and exam (so nearly US$3,000 in air fares) totalled the better part of US$13,000. This is not cheap but it is cheaper than the cost of one year’s tuition for an undergraduate degree course in England.

The Institute is appealing to a wider number of potential students than ever before with 321 students from 37 different countries currently on roll. It is the difficulty and therefore the kudos attached to those that pass, that drive people towards embarking on this challenge. The journalist with whom I argued did not see it like that but I feel sure that any student or current MW would agree, that although entitled to his opinion, the facts do not support him; he was simply, plain wrong.

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The Phone-Call

When the early morning, slightly crinkled voice of Penny Richards, Chief Executive of the Institute of the Masters of Wine, replied ‘Mark?’ to my tentative ‘hello?’ she could not see the shaking of my legs that twitched in front of me as I perched, unsteadily, on the arm of the sofa.

The time was 12.08 p.m., Monday the seventh of September, (05.08 a.m. London time) and I was in a foul funk of a mood and had been all morning. The day was exam results’ day and those of you that follow the trials and tribulations of Sniff will know that afflicted by a cold I had been less than sparkling in my performance on the first of the three tasting papers taken back in early June. Such is the standard required I believed that I had blown it, a situation beyond rescue, and even though I felt the next two days went well, I believed they could not be so good as to repair the damage already done.

With the various crises that afflict the world at any given time, it is with some guilt that I tell you that during the last three months my sleep has been regularly interrupted by the spectre of that first morning. The investment of time, energy, money but more importantly emotion that students often attach to these once yearly exams, makes any failure achingly painful. So why was Penny ringing me?

When Penny told me I had passed the practical (tasting) part of the exam that now sees my visits to exam halls halted indefinitely having passed the theory part last year, I was gracious enough to greet her with a round of expletives that even my mother may have found hard to forgive. As inured to this treatment, as Penny must now be, it is with the utmost respect that I ask for her forgiveness.

So what does this mean? Well for nineteen people, the most in the Institute’s history, the phone-calls they received meant the end to years of hard work, doubt and anxiety as they had earned those two most coveted of letters; MW. For me it means two-thirds done, one-third to go with ‘just’ the Research Paper standing between me and what? One final heart-thumping, sweaty palmed, loose limbed, dry-mouthed, hot-eyed, bowel loosening conversation with Penny..

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Postcard from London: The MW Exams

I love London. I was born here, went to University here and I’ve still got friends and family living here but more recently London has become associated with pain. It is five days since I finished my second attempt at the practical part of the Master of Wine. This year, having passed the Theory part last June, my focus has been fixed on the three tasting papers. Having arrived from Taiwan some three weeks ago I was feeling relatively relaxed and just on the right side of confident. Waking up last Sunday morning, 48 hours before the exams were due to start, my confidence began to ebb as I found a heavy cold had taken up residence in my head. I could have cried, instead I raved at the injustice then went to the exam room determined that a cold compromised palate was not going to knock me off my stride…but it did.

Tuesday was bad. I think a fully operational nose on the white wine paper is particularly important. The lack of tannins means that there is one less structural element from which one can draw clues to help determine the variety and origin. However, although my ability to taste was clearly reduced, it was my logic that seemed to be the sense that lacked the most acuity, a result of my allowing to much self-pity to take hold. If I had kept my head rather than wallowing in my perceived mis-fortune I would be grinning rather than grimacing at the memory of my performance on that day.

The following two days were much better and I actually quite enjoyed the sparkling, sweet and fortified wines featured on the final paper. Will I pass? Well, that first paper makes it very difficult but whatever the result, I’ll be back.

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Italy: More than pizza and pasta

Italy’s cuisine, founded on pasta, pizza and the concept of ‘cucina povera’ (simple but quality food), has seen Italian food garner global fame. It is rare to arrive in any town or city in the developed world without seeing the tricolore proudly displayed in the signage of the local trattoria, but what about Italian wine?

Most wine consumers will, at some point, have worked their way through a glass of Chianti or Pinot Grigio but that is just the tip of a very large ‘wineberg’ that remains relatively unknown to the majority. If you doubt my assessment of the level of consciousness that Italian wines have managed to prick, just examine the Master of Wine exams of the last three years (2012-2014). Of the 108 wines that candidates have been asked to assess: only eleven were Italian in comparison to thirty three from France. I don’t think this is evidence of some internal bias by the Institute of Masters of Wine, just a reflection of the lack of penetration in global terms for many of Italy’s offerings. This lack of recognition is partly due to what lovers of Italian wine cherish the most; namely the vast range of indigenous varieties scattered throughout the Italian peninsula. The ‘problem’ for many of these varieties is that they seem reluctant to flourish away from their homeland meaning that there is a concomitant lack of exposure. Hopefully Australia’s increasing desire to plant some of these varieties, a sensible choice considering the generally Mediterranean climate experienced in much of the wine growing South East, will help to redress this situation.

Monday saw the Gambero Rosso Italian wine tasting event arrive in Taipei. The raft of Italian producers in attendance, many as yet to find importers in this corner of Asia, provided a welcome opportunity to refamiliarise myself with the classic as well as the more esoteric offerings from this vinous heavyweight. Below are wines from four producers that I hope will have been successful in their search for representation, as I believe they have the necessary charm to delight not just me but also the increasing number of wine-drinkers here in Taiwan. Whatever the outcome for these four estates, be sure to explore Italy’s vinous heritage, it is as important and as impressive as their food and warrants your attention.

Barone Pizzini, Franciacorta DOCG, Brut Nature, 2011
Grape: 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir
Wine-making: More than 24 months on lees and less than 3g of sugar per litre in the dosage.
Note: Buttered brioche with a little nectarine and citrus fruit, this was a decidedly precise yet still vinous glass of Franciacorta. If you like Champagne then the wines from this part of Lombardy offer similar levels of quality with a touch more generosity.
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

Bibbiano, Chianti Classico DOCG, 2012, 13.5%
Grape: Sangiovese
Wine-making: No oak
Note: Benchmark Chianti Classico, all crisp, pithy and with the scent of sour cherries gives this a thirst quenching quality that makes it alarmingly easy to drink.
Score: 16/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

La Raia, Gavi DOCG, ‘Pisè’, 2012, 13%
Grape: Cortese
Wine-making: 12 months on lees
Note: This shows how good Cortese can be. Leesy, firm but with apple, almond and a subtle floral quality that is almost reminiscent of a good 1er cru Chablis. Break out the oysters.
Score: 16.5+/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan 

Marchesi di Barolo, Barbaresco Tradizione, 2011, 14.5%
Grape: Nebbiolo
Wine-making: Short maceration (helps retain fruitiness) and 18 months in large oak.
Note: This is as juicy and approachable as young Nebbiolo gets. Fruity, floral and generous and tame enough to enjoy without food.
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan

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Seismic Wine

It is not often that one gets to taste wine during an earthquake but on Monday it happened twice. In the morning, I sat down at my desk, set the timer on my phone for 22 minutes (I was only tasting two wines) so as to recreate the conditions of an MW exam, and began my sniffing and spitting. Whilst staring into the middle distance pondering the powdery nature of the first wine’s tannins, I became aware of the gentle pull and push of the quake and the swaying of the pictures on the wall. Those of you who have experienced this rather soothing effect may have noticed that most people’s reaction is to sit still. Whilst I contemplated getting under the table just in case the soothing morphed into something more sinister I knew that this seismic event was going to play havoc with my timing.

In the evening our tasting group had just poured the wines when the first of two aftershocks crept into the building causing more swaying of lights and human stillness. After that the wines were sure to be a disappointment…but they weren’t and although they may not have caused the earth to move they did provide plenty of animated discussion.

There were two wines in particular – a Chianti and a Muscadet – that proved deliciously atypical. The Chianti was soft, supple, lithe and delightfully refined with an almost Burgundian feel whilst the Muscadet had most of us looking at something Rhone-ish like Roussanne, so generous was the fruit and body. Lastly we enjoyed some Marsanne whose lemon verbena scented richness provided the perfect post quake quaff.

All of the wines below come highly recommended.

Domaine de la Pépière, Clisson, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, 2011, 12%
Grapes: Melon de Bourgogne
Wine-making: 2 yrs on the lees
Note: Alluring nose of candied pineapple, lemon oil and some cheesiness from time spent on the lees. This is generous, outstandingly rich for Muscadet, and persistent. A bargain.
Price: 800NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: 

Castello di Ama, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2008, 13.5%
Grapes: 80% Sangiovese, 20% Malvasia Nera, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Wine-making: 12 months in 20% new French oak for 12 months
Note: Blackberry, meaty and graphite scented loveliness. The tannins, so often laced with astringency in Sangiovese are supple, almost soft, and provide a fine boned structure from which the fruit seductively hangs. Although not inexpensive (it is still cheaper than most Brunello) this is an excellent example of the elegance achievable in Chianti.
Price: 1900NT
Score: 17.5/20
Available from: 

Les Vins de Vienne, Les Bialères, Saint Peray, 2012, 13.5%
Grapes: 80% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne
Wine-making: 9 months in French oak (not new)
Note: Smelling of lemon oil and lemon verbena, this Marsanne is typically generous of body and soft in acidity and makes me salivate for some salmon.
Price: 1300NT
Score: 16/20
Available from:

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Bordeaux 2011

Following on from Wednesday’s missive that discussed the merits or otherwise of Bordeaux 2012, fate guided me to an unexpected comparison with 2011. Taiwan is great, but awash with fellow MW wannabes it is not. Finding ways to prepare for my second attempt at the practical exam that looms large this June, relies on me being creative. My latest plan involves the Taiwan Wine Academy, who, being extremely generous as always, have agreed to send me six samples a week from wines they use in some of their classes. I had my first delivery on Wednesday night, the small brown phials arrived alone and by taxi, carefully cosseted in giant bubble wrap and accompanied by nothing more than a sealed envelope marked ‘Answers’.

Having set my timer for one hour, seven minutes and thirty seconds (MW exams consist of double this quantity of wine and time) I scribbled myself a range of MW style questions, including a requirement to identify the vintages, poured the wines and off I went. Having nosed my way through the six wines that consisted of two whites, three reds and a sweet, it was instantly apparent that they were from Bordeaux. I’d be lying if I said that I knew that the sweet wine was from 2011 and although I was confident that the whites were indeed from this vintage it was the reds that spoke loudest of their birth-year. Being bookended by the markedly richer vintages of 2009 and 2010 on one side and the leaner tasting 2012 on the other, the youthful, still purple hued, ripe but not bumptious nature of the fruit in these 2011’s was transparent.

After 2009 and 2010, the lack of enthusiasm within the wine world to splash the cash on the good but not great vintage that followed, has led many to discount the merits of this more precocious year. Yet 2011 is classic Bordeaux with many wines providing delicious drinking now and over the medium-term. Overall, choosing between 2011 and 2012, is a no-brainer; give me ripeness over greenness any day.

Below are three of the very representative examples tasted from the 2011 vintage.

Chateau Pessac La Garde, Pessac Leognan, 2011, 13%
Grape: 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sauvignon Gris
Wine-making: 10 months in French oak
Note: Sweet oak, aniseed aromas and citrus peel dominate. This has real drive and minerality with a supporting seam of high acidity.
Price: 1,950NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: 

Chateau d’Issan, Margaux 3eme Cru, 2011, 13%
Grape: 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot
Wine-making: 18 months in French oak
Note: Heady with the scent of hyacinths, this is classic Margaux with an open and approachable texture that flatters yet has the requisite silky and fine grained tannins that promise continued positive evolution until the early 2020’s.
Price: 2,200NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: Chateau Wine and Cigar 

Chateau de Fonbel, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, 2011, 13.5%
Grape: 63% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 7% Carmenere
Wine-making: 10 months in 30% new French oak
Note: Blackberry and exotic spice, thick tannins and with an opulence that made me think this was Pomerol, this is great value St. Emilion.
Price: 1,150NT
Score: 16/20
Available from: New Century Wine

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