One of the first pieces we ever posted on Sniff last September was on the pleasure of drinking delicious Bulgarian wine, particularly those made from Melnik in the Struma Valley. Whilst back in Bristol we spent an enjoyable evening at Bell’s Diner, a restaurant that has been consistently at the forefront of Bristol’s culinary arts even after the departure of the former proprietor and talented chef Chris Wickes. Now the food is less experimental but equally satisfying and if the wine list has shrunk somewhat, the quirkiness quotient more than compensates.
To accompany the powerful and earthy flavours of smoked paprika and harissa that added vim to our skewers of monkfish and chicken required a wine of some confidence. As more dishes arrived; grilled sardines, silky aubergine salad, aged parmesan, pickles etc, it was clear that a simple Sauvignon would not suffice and I searched the wine-list for something with weight. Rkatsitelli is not a variety that features heavily on the wine-list of the average English restaurant but perhaps it should. This Georgian native is the mostly widely planted white variety in Bulgaria and although its ubiquity is due primarily to its productive and hardy nature (like Riesling for example) this does not preclude it from making some interestingly individual wines. I settled on Borovitza’s Cuvee Bella Rada, an oaked and ‘natural’ example from old vines and with no added sulphites. Whilst a little muted on the nose, the wine sported a vinosity, a layer of palate enveloping fatness, that was surely a result of the extended oak ageing and the oxidative nature of this method of maturation. Such honeyed heft proved remarkably adaptable to the raft of dishes we had chosen and we left, satisfied that this was a fitting finale to our time in Europe. Taiwan with all its beef-noodle loveliness was calling us home.
Joseph Phelps, Insignia (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Napa Valley, USA, 2010. (I really like this vintage of Insignia) 19/20
Rich, fine and engaging. Insignia at its majestic best.
Catena Alta, Historic Rows Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2009. 18.5/20
This was just about perfect when opened a couple of months ago. Vibrant, pure yet profound.
Ridge, Lytton Springs (predominantly Zinfandel), Sonoma County, USA, 2009. 18/20
Zinfandel that is more than a one trick pony.
Pontet Canet, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2011. 18/20
I would happily drink this now. Forget the 2009s and 10’s and focus on the more ‘classic’ vintages of the last ten years (04, 06, 08, 11) to accompany the big bird.
Poderi Aldo Conterno, Barolo (Nebbiolo), Piedmont, Italy, 2004 (drinking very well now). 18/20
Jamet, Cote Rotie (Syrah), Northern Rhone, France, 2008. 17/20
I wish I could drink this kind of wine everyday, fresh, delicate and so very elegant.
La Rioja Alta, Gran Reserva 904 (predominantly Tempranillo), Rioja, Spain, 1998. 18/20
This or the 2001 make for perfect drinking now.
Yarra Yering, Dry Red Number 1 (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Yarra Valley, Australia. 18.5/20
The only Australian on the list this year, speaks more of the choice available in Taiwan than the quality coming from Oz.
Duemani, CiFRA (Cabernet Franc), Tuscany, Italy, 2011. 17/20
Like the Jamet, this is very much my kind of wine. Juicy, grippy but charming.
Groot Constantia, Gouverneur’s Reserve (predominantly Cabernet Franc), Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2011. 18/20
South Africa gives you some fruit that has clearly benefited from some warmth but also tannins that remind you of Europe, a winning combination.
Logodaj, Melnik 55 (100% Melnik). Struma Valley, Bulgaria, 2012. 17/20
This really opened my eyes to Bulgaria, I would be more than happy to drink this with my goose.
Chateau de la Font du Loup, Chateauneuf du Pape (predominantly Grenache), Southern Rhone, France, 2012. 18/20
This provides what I want from CNdP, pretty fruit, perfume but with some underlying grunt. Lovely.
Mas Amiel, A Alt 433M (predominantly Grenache), Maury Sec, Roussillon, France. 17/20
Wild, untamed and very good.
Marquis d’Angerville, 1er Cru les Champans, Volnay (Pinot Noir), Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
A lesson in what Volnay is meant to be about, delicacy, elegance and that ethereal Pinot charm.
Pieve Santa Restituta, Renina, Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese),
Tuscany, Italy, 2007 (delicious vintage from here). 18.5/20
Powerful but beautifully balanced, I loved this.
Clos Mogador (predominantly Garnacha and Carinena), Priorat, Spain, 2008. 18.5/20
Great wine from great people often tastes…well, great.
Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon), Bordeaux, France, 2008. 17.5/20
I really like the 2008 vintage, sleek and ripe enough and with grainy tannins that help this wine persist on the palate.
If someone asks me what I want for Christmas I hesitate to say wine because I know that people fear getting it ‘wrong’. The problem is that the amateur cannot look at a label and derive much needed information about the quality in the bottle. If, on the other hand, I want to buy my beloved a handbag, whether I know the relative merits of Fendi vs. Fiorelli is immaterial, my judgement on the suitability of the aesthetic is alone, the deciding factor (not that I am pretending that this purchasing decision is free of danger).
What follows therefore is a brief list of some of the wines that I have particularly enjoyed over the last year. I have not listed the wines by price (as typing the name of each into Google will give you a more accurate idea of their cost in your local market) and if you would like more detailed information, many have been reviewed on Sniff in the last few months. It is far from exhaustive and the criteria for appearing on this list was less about the score (I have left out many with similar ratings) and more about those wines that have forced me to engage with them, either as a result of their sheer gustatory pleasure or because of some beguiling complexity. These are, therefore, wines that should make any wine-lover happy (be it your Mum, manager or man-friend) and if you are lucky they may even share their gift with you, ensuring a happy Christmas for all concerned.
One last point – don’t fret too much about the vintage, I state if the vintage is hugely influential to the choice.
Ken Forrester, The FMC (100% Chenin Blanc) Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2010. 17.5/20
Rich and intense but with a seam of supporting acidity. Chenin at its South African best.
Hans Herzog, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ‘Sur lie’, New Zealand, 2009. 17/20
Quince, pineapple, marzipan and nettle form just part of this complex, very un-Marlborough like, Sauvignon.
Millton, Riverpoint Viognier, Gisborne, New Zealand, 2011. 17.5/20
Warm peach, lemon oil and honey. Vibrant for Viognier and with great length.
Henri Bourgeois, La Bourgeoise, Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Loire France, 2010. 18.5/20
My favourite Sauvignon of the year, as elegant as it gets.
Eric Morgat, Cuvee l’Enclos, Savennieres (Chenin Blanc), Loire, France, 2009. 18/20
Weighty but with that special mineral and salty line running through it which separates the great from the good.
Von Buhl, Forster Ungeheuer GG (‘Grosses Gewachs’ meaning a dry wine produced from the best vineyards), Riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 2011. 18/20
Full of tension and vitality.
Cantina Terlan, Winkl, Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige/Sudtirol, Italy, 2013. 17.5/20
The best producers of Italian Sauvignon?
Nik Weis, St. Urbans Hof, Laurentiuslay GG, Riesling trocken, Mosel, Germany, 2012 (I love this vintage here). 19/20
Stunning, the most arresting white I tried this year.
Domaine Labet, Fleur de Savagnin ‘en Chalasse’, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2012. 17.5/20
No need to chill this as the driving acidity and persistence make this feel like it is already chilled. Brilliant.
Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Clos du Four, (100% Chardonnay) Macon-Milly-Lamartine, Burgundy, France, 2011. (I love this vintage here) 18/20
Delicious, approachable and most importantly, highly affordable Burgundy.
Domaine Ramonet, 1er cru ‘les Caillerets’, Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
Delicious and approachable but you’ll pay a bit more for this classic than for the Macon.
Jean Bourdy, Chateau Chalon, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2005. 19/20
Flor influenced brilliance. Gob-smackingly fine with an intensity, complexity and persistence rarely found in any other white wine. Outstanding.
Sweet & Sparkling
Rolly Gassmann, Rotleibel de Rorschwihr, Pinot Gris, Alsace, France, 2008. 18/20
A little chubby but only in the most alluring way, I could drink a glass of this every day.
Grahams, The Stone Terraces, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 2011, (special vintage). 19/20
From the spectacular 2011 vintage, this is Graham’s newest addition to their line-up.
Dow’s, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 1994. 18/20
Perfect drinking now.
Chateau Pajzos, Tokaji Essencia, Hungary, 1999. 19.5/20
I had tears in my eyes on tasting this. The most mesmeric wine I tasted this year.
Bruno Paillard, NPU 1999, Champagne, France. 18.5/20
Very complex sparkler that deserves your full attention. Don’t waste this on a celebration, drink with your nearest and dearest.
Camel Valley, Pinot Noir Rose Brut, Cornwall, England, 2012. 17/20
Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve NV, Champagne, France. 18/20
Surely the best value Champagne on the market.
Date: 22nd August 2014
Place: J.W. Teres Restaurant, No.4, Lane 208, Siwei Road, Daan District, Taipei,
The dominance of France, Italy and Spain on the consciousness of both wine producers and consumers is profound. When vine growers or winemakers have the opportunity to produce the wine they believe could be their best work they often turn to those proven noble varieties that bestride the wine-making world. This is, of course, completely understandable. Ask an oenophile what their death-bed wine would be and Nebbiolo from Barolo, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Burgundy, Syrah from Cote Rotie and Tempranillo from Rioja – are likely to figure large. Why? Because these are proven performers, grapes that over time have demonstrated their inherent ‘oneness’ with the land on which they are planted and the climate in which they inhabit.
Seeking out regions where this ‘oneness’ exists should lead the wine consumer to regions of production that have history: regions where often a single variety has come to dominate. In Bulgaria and the Struma valley located in the far south west of the country such a history exists with Melnik (aka Shiroka Melnishka). On Friday night whilst munching through a variety of fine Bulgarian food – grilled neck of lamb and sail-fish belly, smoky baked egg-plant and stuffed zucchini with yoghurt and dill, we drank some delicious Melnik from the Logodaj winery. The wine was dense with flavour, rich with tannin and with a spine formed of firm acidity. As one might expect, such innate structure is well suited to barrel maturation but the presence of oak flavours and aromas were marked by their integration with what was still a young wine (2012).
Examples of classic wines are to be found in many regions if one is prepared to look. The Struma Valley and Melnik deserve your attention.
Logodaj, Melnik 55, Struma Valley, 2012, 14.5%
Grape: Melnik 55
Wine-making: 12 months maturation in small French barrels
Note: Rich and ripe yet lithe and sprightly, cherry-like fruit supported by forgiving tannins. Judicious oak use provides spiciness and tobacco aroma. Excellent.
Available from: Aneco International