Tasting notes for Wines of the Year 2004

Red – Opus One (California) Napa Valley Proprietory Red Wine 1993
I have collected Opus One a bit over the years, and am starting to drink the early 1990’s vintages now. This 1993 (Cabernet Sauvignon 89%, Cabernet Franc 7%, Merlot 4%) was aged in new French oak for 18 months, after a very good vintage season. The colour is still a really deep, glossy ruby/crimson. The nose is fabulous: the perfect marriage of abundant, juicy blackurrant fruit and elegant smoke and cedarwood, with complex suggestions of plumskin acidity and earthy tones. On the palate it is mouthfilling and ripe, with a medium- to full-bodied, rich texture and very well defined fruit. It is long, pure and driven by a combination of very precise, ripe fruit and perfect balance. Excellent. Around £130 per bottle. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

White – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Le Montrachet 1996
From a tiny parcel of Le Montrachet covering just two-thirds of a hectare. This is a fantastically aromatic wine, its fragrance of honey, toast, and hot-butter layered over Brazil nut, and deep beurre noisette, with ripe apple and peach fruit beneath. Real sensory overload here. It has an equally stunning palate, with wonderfully vibrant and concentrated orange fruit and a weighty, silky texture. But there is tons of verve too, with a rapier-like mineral acidity cutting through a developing core of luscious nectarine and finely-wrought pear fruit. There are so many layers to this wine, which unfolded over the evening (I dipped in and out of my generous glassful). It has fantastic limpidity too, with honey and oatmeal nuances, and a bright polish of start-fruit and Asian pear adding tension against the more opulent side of its nature. Amazing concentration and length, giving this wine undeniable presence, yet impeccable balance. Outstanding. This wine costs an incomprehensible £1,000-plus per bottle, but is other-worldly. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Budget red – Domaine Laguerre (France) Le Ciste 2002
This wine is a Vin de Pays des Pyrénées Orientales, based around the Fenouillèdes AOC area south of the Corbières hills in the Languedoc. Eric Laguerre has already impressed through his partnership with Gérard Gauby, that has produced the “La Soula” range of super-premium wines, but on his own here he has turned in a bit of a blockbuster red. The nose is just loaded with rich, spicy, blackcurrant and raspberry fruit, with intriguing nuances of currants, rose-hip and a thyme-like herbal quality. It is deep and sonosrous, with a cedary underpinning. On the palate that powerhouse of black fruits pushes through, with a tugging dryness of cherry skin, leather and more of that cedar and earthy character. Tannins are fine, and a subtle acidity helps balance the powerfully extracted fruit. With 14% alcohol, this is a bit of a bruiser, but not at the expense of the wild “garrigue” character of the south. £8.99 Original Wine Co,

Budget white – Riccardo Falchini (Italy) Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2002
Drunk by the glass (from a freshly-opened bottle) in the excellent Vintners rooms in Edinburgh, this was a fabulous little wine: quite a deep, burnished gold colour, and an immediately vivid and attractive nose of acacia flowers and honey, with a mealy, buttery hint and plenty of soft, stone fruit aromas. On the palate it is quite rich and well-textured, with plenty of sweet, ripe apricot fruit and a lovely bracing acidity. I thought this was just an excellent wine, from one of this Tuscan region’s best producers. It washed down Roast Prawns with Chorizo and a Pistou Sauce quite beautifully. Around £6.99. See all stockists for this wine on wine-searcher.com.

Sweet – Huet (Loire) Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux 1ère Trie 1947
1947 is an outstanding year for the sweet wines of the Loire, with full Botrytis. This is reputedly one of the best ever Huet wines. As always with such a reputation, it pays to be cautious and vigilant in tasting. It is certainly the darkest wine of the night; a dramatically deep, caramel-tinged umber. It has a wonderfully intense nose; almost mint-leaf, spearminty concentration. There are some vegetal, herby notes of nettle, leaf tea and and bark, as well as a deep, luscious, honey bouquet. The palate is just superb. After an initial blast of honeyed, figgy, quince-like rich flavours, the thick texture is cut by notes of caramelised orange, candied tropical fruits, and coffee flavours. There is a nice bittersweetness here; and interplay between limpid butterscotch and honey, and tangerine skin bite and freshness. It has outstanding concentration and length still, with that great, vibrant tang of Seville orange and burnt brown sugar playing against all the sweetness and fruit. A truly memorable and remarkable wine, and worthy of its reputation on this evidence. Outstanding. See all Maison Huet Vouvrays on wine-searcher.com

Sparkling – Krug (France) Vintage Champagne 1985
On two nights of the same week I opened Krug 1985 and Dom Perignon 1992. I have to say the DP was a stunner from a moderate vintage: a beautifully toasty, mellow and complex wine. But the vote goes to the 1985 Krug, a fabulous Champagne experience. The colour is a medium gold with a mass of absolutely minuscule bubbles. On the nose it is rich yet refined, with toasty, warming, nut and peach kernal aromas, but plenty of vicacious fruit and a lingering minerality. On the palate the mousse is persistent, soft and cushioning, with a medium body. The wine has all sorts of racy, darting citrus and pear notes cutting and weaving through plump, full, peachy fruit and rich, biscuity autolysis. There’s a magical complexity to this wine that is hedonistic and delicious, yet opens up in multiple layers of aroma and flavour. Outstanding. Around £120, see all stockists on wine-searcher. You can find the 1992 Dom Perignon for around £70 or so – see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Fortified– Barbeito (Madeira) Single Harvest 1996
I visited Barbeito a couple of years ago, one of the smaller, but most progressive Madeira houses. This special selection of just three casks of barrel-aged wines resulted in only 3,000 bottles. The colour is a lovely barley-sugar gold (Barbeito do not use caramel to colour their wines) and the nose has an incredible walnut, honey and Seville orange melange of aromas, with dried fruits and sweet vanilla adding to the complexity. On the palate it is luscious and beautifully balanced: it has terrific sweetness, and delicate fruit suggesting unctuous pear and peach, but a back-stop of racy orange acidity and all sorts of tobacco-tinged, dry, walnut and smoky, sultry tones. This is a brilliant wine by any standards and a must try. Outstanding. Around £16 per 50cl, see all stockists on wine-searcher. The equally gorgeous 1995 is in Berry Bros & Rudd at £13.50.

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