Tasting notes for Wines of the Year 2005

Guigal (France) Côte-Rôtie La Mouline 2000
This is made from 100% Côte Blonde fruit. It sees almost four years in new oak before release. Guigal has the longest experience of using new oak in all of Rhône, and has experimented with all sorts of oaks, all sorts of toasting and all sorts of tonneliers. The wine is fermented in stainless steel, but goes through malolactic and ageing in barrel – a Burgundian technique. Philippe will de-stem according to vintage conditions; all stems come off in less ripe, “green” years, but he prefers partial de-stemming where possible. The colour is a dense, even dark crimson. It has a deep, sonorous, cherry and herb-scented nose, with gentle toast and a chocolaty depth, and a real sense of plushness. There are little notes of blueberry and floral highlights too, in a pure but complex fragrance. Lovely fruit on the palate here; really fine, rich, ripe cassis and black cherry fruit, with a medium-bodied, silky mouthfeel and very smooth texture. The finish has a great suppleness and a bittersweet chocolate and espresso depth, but it stays fresh, cherry-lifted and harmonious in the finish. Very good length too, with spicy, rich and toasty notes playing against fine acidity and a tight tannic structure. Outstanding. Around £140, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Katnook (Australia) Sauvignon Blanc 1980
Katnook have long been my favourite of all the Australian Sauvignon Blanc producers – certainly in a league of their own before the Margaret River competition hotted things up. It was a quite remarkable opportunity to taste this 25-year old wine, which as Wayne quipped on opening, had “seriously dented the cellar stocks”. Still a hint of green to a yellowy mid-gold. Amazingly youthful and fabulous nose: some fat, waxy, green bean and capsicum notes, but a smoky minerality too. On the palate a great core of fruit remains, with honeyed, limpid qualities and a hint of creamy oak in the background. This is brilliant stuff – and it’s not just the thrill of drinking such an old wine; it has weight, richness and mid-palate texture still, with really good, clean acidity and length. Excellent/outstanding. Not available.

Rocca di Montegrossi (Italy) Chianti Classico 2003
Montegrossi is a traditional winemaking estate, but is willing to use touches of barrique or “international” grapes if and when the vintage demands it, and always with restraint and impeccable attention to quality. The wet 2002 demanded some cabernet and merlot in the blend and some barrique ageing to give their Chianti Classico some body (and it is a terrific wine – buy it if the 2003 is not yet available), but for 2003 they returned to 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo aged only in large oak vats. There is a fragrant minerality about the nose, with crisp cherry and redcurrant fruit and a crushed, dry fruit and cedar quality. On the palate it is silky and smooth, but extremely fresh with leafy, cherryish fruit and a juicy, mouthwatering quality of tannin and acidity.  Around £9.99, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Heartland (Australia) Viognier Pinot Gris 2004
Heartland is the affordable label of Ben Glaetzer, one of the world’s hottest wine-making figures ever since Rober Parker bestowed the magical perfect 100 score on his ‘Amon Ra’ Shiraz last year. I recently had lunch with Ben, and tasted through hs wines, where every one struck me as being beautifully balanced and crafted, and perfectly pitched between typical Aussie ebuliance and a certain harmony and restraint. This highly unusual blend of Viognier and Pinot Gris has a wonderfully smoky, Pinot Gris-dominated nose (despite that grape making up only around a quarter of the blend) with some floral character, and quite fat, buttery citrus, peach and herbal notes. On the palate this has lovely richness and terrific verve, with a deliciously deep mid-palate of ripe pear and a sweet toffeed note, with hints of luscious honey and spices. Wonderful stuff for the money. £8.95, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

Dönnhoff (Germany) Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese 2003
This monopole vineyard, the “Oberhaus bridge”, it is cited next to Donhoff’s cellars. In the blistering summer of 2003 the temperature reached 42% for one full week, but this wine still came in with normal acidity – mainly because the vineyard is low down by the river, and a lot of work was done in the vineyard, picking early in October (5 weeks earlier than 1991) with a very quick press and straight to cellars for a very cool fermentation. There is possibly a little icewine in this too. Quite a muted nose, with reduction, showing just a little yellow plum and a faint floral character. Bursts into life on the palate, with a massive, unctuous sweetness, and a palate-coating, smooth texture. There is a mass of peach and nectarine, and hints of guava and pineapple. Lovely acid balance, which is subsumed by the opulent sweetness and texture, but just supports beautifully into a long finish. See all stockists on wine-searcher

Taittinger (France) Comtes de Champagne 1995
The deluxe cuvée from Taittinger is always a remarkably complex and sophisticated wine, made only in years regarded as “exceptional”. It is partially barrel-matured, and is 100% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru vineyards of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly. Released after five years on the lees, the nose has a delicate smokiness, touches of toasted brioche and nuts, and a core of peachy fruit. There are little herbal notes, and a lemon-zest lift, in a complex picture. On the palate the sweet peachy quality of the fruit persists, with a delicate, mouth-filling mousse and a waxy lemon-rind quality. There is lovely zest about this wine, with great persistence of fruit wrapped with that subtle, toasty layer of flavour that is so appealing. The is excellent/outstanding, and is one for long-term cellaring if you can resist. Widely available at around £80, but shop around for a deal. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Mas Amiel (France) Maury 1980
Aged for one year in glass demi-johns, then 19 more years in large oak vats before release. It has a stunning nose that is sweet and aromatic, with herbs, tobacco, spices and camphor, lots of sweet chocolaty vanilla and a red plum fruitiness. On the palate a beautiful sweetness of ripe, deep, chocolate and rich autumnal berry fruit, with brown sugar and cherry notes and a deep, glossy character. It has an endless finish, with more delicacy of tea and tobacco, and a warming coffee core. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Clos de los Siete (Argentina) 2004
Over the years that I have been publishing wine-pages.com (almost 10 now!) I’ve occasionally been criticised by people for not having enough negative things to say about wine. But the fact is that in articles like Wine of the Week my intention is to guide you to one excellent, good value wine amongst the 600 on a merchant’s shelves. Telling you one to avoid is far less useful, as it would still leave you in the dark about the other 599. Here then is an exception: a wine that I can say, hand on heart, that I do not like. So why is it Wine of the Week? Well, it may just be the best value wine around – if you like this particular style. Clos de los Siete is the work of Michel Rolland, the world’s most famous and infamous “flying winemaker”, and consultant to scores of wineries across the globe. He is blamed by some for destroying regionality, subtlety, and diversity in red wine, culminating in Jonathan Nossiter’s film Mondovino, where Rolland was framed as arch-villain. His Argentinean estate produced an exceptional value for money wine in 2003, that was deeply impressive, even though I personally found it too concentrated and extracted. This 2004 has less charm for me, and subsequently has tipped over the edge of my personal threshhold. It is a wine with a dense, spicy, thick character that is part Indian ink, part a smear of boiled-down, reduced blackcurrant jam. It is a massive, mouth-filling, tannic monster of a wine, with abundant fruit buried beneath a mantle of massively extracted flavours. It may well go on for 20 or 30 years, and may well be as good as many an icon wine of Bordeaux’s right bank, California or Chile. It may well be an astonishing bargain at £10.99. But it won’t find a place in my cellar. £10.99, see all stockists on wine-searcher.

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