Christmas wines from Berry Bros, 2006

This was a tasting of moderately-priced wines and wines for Christmas from Berry Bros & Rudd. Berry Bros is one of London’s oldest merchants, yet they have the UK’s most cutting-edge web presence at These wines were a real treat I have to say, with some inexpensive wines that are drinking beautifully, and some absolutely cracking desert wines on show. Berry’s also offer by-the-case discounts on their wines, so I have quoted both bottle and by-the-case equivalent bottle prices for each wine.


Jacquesson (France) Champagne Cuvee 730 NV
£31.95, £28.75 by the case. Tasted after a couple of more austere Champagnes from Alfred Gratien (which Berry’s are selling only to the restaurant trade currently) this seemed almost mouthfilling and rich, with a slightly more leesy character and more nutty tones. On the palate it is anything but blowsy however, with tight, focused lemony fruit and a clean, rapier-like minerality. Very good indeed.

Jacquesson (France) Champagne Avize Grand Cru NV
£50.00, £40.00 by the case. Lovely nose, with hints of opulence and a ripe, quite vegetal appeal with herbal notes and clean fruit. The palate is bone dry, with a huge core of acidity (though this wine was slightly too cold straight from an ice bucket) and shot through with a nervosity. Very fine mousse and very long. Excellent.


Domaine Boudinaud (France) Granges des Roquette Blanc NV
£7.25, £6.52 by the case. This Vin de Pays d’Oc from near the Pont du Gard in the Languedoc is a blend of Marsanne and Viognier. It has a beautifully rich, but fine and fruity nose, with lots of herbal and buttery character and lemony fruit, just hinting at more opulent peachy notes. On the palate that slightly honeyed, weighty peach fruit carries through, but this has terrific acidity and a real bit of steel at its core. A delightful wine, and excellent at this price.

J-M Cazes (France) Berry’s Extra Ordinary White Bordeaux NV
£11.00, £9.90 by the case. Made by Jean-Michel Cazes of Lynch-Bages, this white Graves is a new wine to accompany Berry’s runaway success Extra Ordinary Red, also made by Cazes. There are really ripe passionfruit and tropical overtones, with a hint of marzipan from new oak. On the palate it is really pithy and zippy, with a mass of orangy fruit and mouth-watering grapefruit acidity. Rich, juicy and well-balanced. Very good indeed/excellent.

Domaine Rieffel (France) Alsace Gewürztraminer Zoltenberg Grand Cru 2004
£14.95, £13.45 by the case. From an organic estate undergoing conversion to biodynamic. This has a beautiful and very expressively ‘Gewurz’ nose, flooded with lychee and rose petal fragrance. On the palate it is a substantial wine, that is off-dry with masses of ripe fruit and a medium-bodied, but quite rich texture. It is anchored by bracing grapefruit acidity to leave a balanced and excellent wine.

Jean-Claude Bessin (France) Chablis Fourchaume 1er Cru 2004
£15.50, £13.95 by the case. Fine, leafy, quite herbal green-pea and nettle notes, with plenty of crisp apple fruit. On the palate that crunchy apple character continues, but there’s an edge of zippy, almost salty minerality that adds complexity and style. This is quite a ripe, fruity wine, but has hallmark balance with very good acidity. Very good indeed.

Château de Puligny (France) Bourgogne Blanc Le Clos 2004
£14.95, £13.45 by the case. I visited this estate in the mid-90s when it was a fairly average performer, but the arrival of Etienne de Montille in 2001 has seen many changes in the vineyards and cellars, and the wines are much improved. This, apparently de-classified Puligny-Montrachet is fairly closed at first, but a nutty, Cox’s Pippin note comes through with a nuance of something very fine and floral. On the palate it has zipping orange fruit with plenty of verve and just a hint of something ripe and tropical, giving a real juiciness on the mid palate. A fine, long, balanced finish completes a very nice picture. Very good indeed/excellent.

Au Bon Climat (USA) California Chardonnay 2004
£15.75, £14.18 by the case. I visited Jim Clendenen in his Santa Barbara winery way back in 1999 and have been a fan of the wines since. The first impression here is of elegance and a beautifully clean wine, with discreet oak (11 months in French oak, very little of it new) and a really Burgundian character. On the palate the fruit has an extra dimension of ripeness, with a luscious mango note to broad nectarine and juicy peach fruit, but it is all freshened and extended by a core of white fruit acidity into a delicious, long finish. Excellent.

Selbach-Oster (Germany) Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling 2005
£14.95, £11.50 by the case. I was very impressed by the 70 or so 2005 German wines I tasted on a visit to several regions in July. This has a lovely leafy character, with delicate minerality and precise lemony fruit. The palate is just wonderful, with a definitely off-dry sweetness and such limpid, clean, dazzling fruit and acid balance and terrific length. A beautiful wine now, but should cellar very well. Excellent.

Finca Allende (Spain) Rioja Allende Blanco 2004
£14.95, £13.45 by the case. Lots of raw, rather custardy oak at present (French oak, all new) that sits on top of the fruit. On the palate there is a touch of the expansive, old white Rioja style, but that just adds a little nuttiness, none of the oxidised character. The fruit itself is beautifully clean and fresh, with lots of juicy peach and lemony acidity, in a modern wine that for me is over-oaked, but it would be fascinating to try this again in a few years time, as the quality of fruit, oak and acidity is undoubtedly extremely high. Very good indeed.


Rossignol-Trapet (France) Beaune Les Teurons 1er Cru Burgundy 2004
£25.50, £19.14 by the case. Gorgeous nose, with mocha and sweet, damp earth, but really ripe, pure berry fruit beneath. The palate is quite tight at present, with quite a lean, savoury edge to red fruit, mostly raspberry, and firm tannins and crisp acidity leaving this on the tart side of fresh. But a fine wine with lovely fruit, that will probably blossom in three to five years.

Rossignol-Trapet (France) Chapelle Chanbertin Grand Cru Burgundy 2002
£55.00, £49.50 by the case. This adds a delightful floral aspect, incense and a huge core of sweet raspberry fruit on the nose, but lovely ripeness and an underpinning coffee richness. Very fine palate, with supple fruit, though again shot through with crisp, defining acidity. The tannins are ripe and very chocolaty and rich, and the plush mocha notes add a substantial character into the long finish. excellent/outstanding.

La Bastide St Vincent (France) Vacqueyras ‘Pavane’ 2004
£10.75, £9.67 by the case. Small notes of liquorice, fennel and red fruits. On the palate it is structured and grippy at present, with fine, ripe, but powerful tannins. Very good indeed.

La Bastide St Vincent (France) Gigondas 2004
£12.45, £11.21 by the case. Deeper, more chocolaty than this estate’s Vacqueyras, with a richness of ripe, autumnal berry fruit. The palate has plenty of grip, but black olive and a rich, plummy black fruit quality really counterbalances. Excellent.

Mas Conscience (France) Le Cas 2005
£10.95, £9.85 by the case. Lots of leafy, ripe, even slightly overripe, rotted fruit notes in this Languedoc wine that seems very reduced to me. The palate has a deep, serious structure, but I find the sulphidic nature of this wine to be verging on the faulty. Good.

Mas Conscience (France) L’As 2004
£14.95, £13.45 by the case. This Coteaux du Languedoc wine is riper, richer, with a very much more obvious and broad-shouldered fruit character. Still structured, grippy and black olive dominated, but there is great purity of fruit and a real racy character, leading into a pure, long and chocolaty finish that is lip-smackingly harmonious. Very good indeed/excellent.

Des Lises, Maxime Graillot (France) Crôzes-Hermitage 2004
£12.95, £11.65 by the case. Beautifully refined nose, that is crisp and lightly sketched, with raspberry fruit and beguiling undertones of flowers and an earthy tone. The palate is firm, with masses of ripe, jammy raspberry fruit. Fine palate too, with a flood of ripe cherry and raspberry, with a blue/black, slightly paint-boxy tone, but not at all unpleasant. Lovely balancing character and what a delightful wine. Excellent.

Emmanuel Darnaud (France) Crôzes-Hermitage ‘Les Trois Chenes’ 2004
£14.95, £13.46 by the case. Hugely sweet and opulent on the nose, this is also layered with creamy new oak and has a mint humbug character. It has beautifully pure, sweet fruit on the palate, and is nicely delineated by firm tannins and decent acidity, but it lacks the purity of the Crozes from Maxime Graillot and the oak and opulence masks both varietal character and ‘terroir’.

Château Grand Moulin (France) Corbières La Tour 2004
£6.95, £6.25 by the case. Nice suggestion of schisty, charcoally Syrah fruit on the nose here, with a hint of herbal quality and thyme. It has lovely ripeness an mouthfilling fruit, with a chocolate and plum weight and a nice roughening edge of tannin in the finish. Very good indeed.

Domaine Chaume Arnaud (France) Vinsobres Rouge 2003
£9.95, £8.96 by the case. The ripeness of this vintage is fully expressed in this buoyantly raspberry and redcurrant-filled wine. There are hints of strawberry fragrance too, in a wine that whilst very ripe, retains elegance. On the palate a luscious cherry and creamy raspberry fruit is caressed by gentle tannins and very nice balancing acidity, in an excellent Côtes du Rhône Villages.

Domaine Coursodon (France) St Jospeh ‘L’Olivaie’ 2003
£18.95, £17.05 by the case. There’s quite a custardy, opulent new oak character here, but the plush depth of blackberry and plum fruit is not overpowered. It is lovely on the palate, with a rich, mouthfilling weight of fruit. This is a fairly massive wine, with big, ripe tannins making their presence felt, and the balance is good. This is an overtly “international’ style, but the wine is hugely impressive. Excellent.

Massamier la Mignarde (France) Cuv&eaute;e des Oliviers 2005
£5.45, £4.91 by the case. This Vin de Pays de Peyriac has a fine nose of honest, juicy, berry fruits, with a little herb-infused raspberry character. The palate is juicy and nicely weighted, with some spice and a crisp edge of acidity into quite a long, savoury finish. Very good indeed.

Hewitson (Australia) McLaren Vale Mad Hatter Shiraz 2003
£19.95, £17.95 by the case. From 45-year-old vines, this is a huge, immediately alluring Shiraz that is typical McLaren Vale. It is flooded with ripe fruit and a plush background oak. On the palate there is lovely finesse – it is not too heavy, with a vivacious, punchy mid-palate of sweet fruit but a fairly beefy structure supporting. Very good indeed/excellent.

Sweet & fortified

Corte Sant’Alda (Italy) Recioto della Valpolicella 2003
£25.00, £22.50 by the case. Lovely dried cherry and herbal nose, with an intense raisined fruit quality and scents of fragrant, very ripe cherries. On the palate this is packed with deliciously sweet red berry fruits, and a fine edge of something liquoricy and dark that adds a lot of complexity and structure. Tannins are indeed grippy, and the acidity is tongue-tingling, giving a fine balance to the sweet fruit. Terrific stuff, and excellent.

Bava (Italy) Moscato d’Asti NV
£6.95, £6.25 by the case. At only 4.5% alcohol this is barely wine, but is a classic of a style I adore: the light, perfumed, talcumy frizzantes of northern Italy. Sherbet, grapes and a fine, leafy note on the nose lead on to a gentle effervescent palate with bright, peachy fruit flooding across the tongue, sharpened by a subtle lemony acidity. Wonderful with any chocolate dessert, the darker the better.

Château Siglas-Rabaud (France) Sauternes 1er Cru 1997
£19.00, £13.69 by the case. 1997 is reckoned to be an excellent Sauternes vintage, yet I’ve tasted a few wines that have been a touch disappointing, with very light Botrytis and lacking a bit of depth. Not this wine from Siglas-Rabaud however, that is immediately honeyed, full and ripe, with marzipan and almond notes, lots of nectarine and a suggestion of dried apricot and fig. The palate is flooded with Botrytis fruit, with barley sugar and burnt orange flavours, and a luscious, full-textured mid-palate weight. A really tangy orange and grapefruity finish completes the picture of an excellent Sauternes.

Selbach-Oster (Germany) Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2005
£52.95, £40.71 by the case. From the superb 2005 vintage, this Botrytis wine has a massive presence on nose and palate, beginning with a flood of fig, honey and tangerine fruit, with all sorts of leaf-tea and complex, savoury components. This has great length and stays very sharp and focused. Will cellar too of course.

Quinta do Vesuvio (Portugal) Vintage Port 1996
£35.00, £29.75 by the case. Lovely, soft curranty fruit on the nose with ripe blackberry tones and a certain nuttiness. Fine fruit on the palate too, with juicy, mouthfilling black fruits. There’s a gentleness to the spirit and refined acidity and tannins, that give structure but make this quite easy to drink already.