Tasting notes for Wines of the Year 2020

These are the tasting notes for Tom Cannavan’s Wines of the Year 2020. They accompany our main Wines of the Year 2020 feature where Tom explains his choices.

Red Wine of The Year

(2020) Decanted for three hours to allow this baby just a chance of opening up slightly. It pours a youthful but pale colour with a broad Amber rim. Taut, firm, graphite and briar aromas, hints of curling woodsmoke and spices, some floral notes floating somewhere above very firm cherry pit notes. Compact and tightly furled. The palate tight as a drum currently, but so beautifully composed, fruit, creamy tannin and generous but firm acids all perfectly balanced. Some tobacco spice and a touch of truffle and polished wood adding a layer of depth. So young, needs years - probably decades - but very, very elegant and refined indeed.

White Wine of The Year

(2020) Classic, very Burgundian, just a hint of flint, but almond and crushed hazelnut, oatmeal over firm, very ripe and attractive orchard fruit, a hint of something herbal and saline. Bursting with energy, the shimmering lemon and salts acidity from the terroir of the clay and limestone soils and the Mendoza clone is delicious, focused and ripe, and so long. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.

Budget Red Wine of The Year

(2020) This Tuscan red sees Sangiovese blended with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, grown in the coastal Maremma, with only around 10% spending time in oak. It's something of a fruit-bomb this - not at all overblown, but filled with a buoyant, creamy blast of ripe, fleshy cherries and blackcurrant that soars from the glass, backed up with just a hint of pencil-shaving finesse. In the mouth that joyous explosion of ripe but nicely savoury fruit comes through, all supple and smooth black fruit flavours, but a chocolaty tannin and bright cherry skin acid axis offers a lovely counterpoint. Approachable, delicious, and it put a warm smile on my face.

Budget White Wine of The Year

(2020) A little bit of wild ferment in this wine, around 6%. Just a touch of deepening, oily, waxy character, a touch of green bean, a little touch of flint and reductive notes nicely managed. There is a lovely creaminess and punch to this, all salts and minerals, and pithy, keen citrus. Touches of peach, passion fruit even a little quinine/tonic in the finish. Who says Marlborough Sauvignon does not age well? Price and stockist given for the most recent vintage at time of review.

Rosé Wine of The Year

(2020) In very general terms I normally prefer blanc to rosé in Champagne, many rosés having charm and delicacy, but missing out a little on complexity. Gosset's has always been one of the exceptions, a properly complex Champagne that does have all the fruit, but a full four years of ageing on the lees, plus being made by assemblage, with a fair percentage of still Pinot Noir in the blend, giving depth and vinosity as well as charm. The blend is 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, but in this case 9% of the Pinot Noir is red wine from vineyards in from Bouzy and Ambonnay and Cumières. It has a lovely, delicate pink colour and streaming small bubbles. The nose is all about pert and pretty red fruits at first, fresh raspberry and softer strawberry, but there's definite Pinot character too, a little truffle, a touch of wild scrubland and some yeasty biscuit notes. On the palate that sweet fruit dominates, but the acidity is pin-sharp. A very delicate, very much background touch of tannin just adds extra edge to this, the long finish and exquisite balance suggesting it's one pink Champagne that could also cellar for a years, as well giving gastronomic appeal - Gosset's suggestion of duck in a cherry sauce being as intriguing as it is appetising. Use wine-searcher for more independent stockists.

Sweet Wine of The Year

(2020) From a great Sauternes vintage and one of the very top estates, expectations were high, but were fully met. I've tasted a few 2001s recently, and would say this is the pick of the bunch. From a half bottle, this retains a bright, golden hue whilst some cellared at the same time are considerably darker. On the nose there is lusciousness, with barley sugar and marmalade, but something brighter than pierces through, maybe somewhere between preserved lemon and salt, but it gives a distinctive, agile aromatic character. In the mouth, full glycerine-rich sweetness and unctuous texture, between nectarine juice and honey, but again that focus, that needle-sharp accuracy to the acidity, the edge of bitter orange, and such lovely length and balance. A fabulous Sauternes which is drinking so well now from the half bottle, but will certainly age further.

Sparkling Wine of The Year

(2020) Composed of equal parts Chardonnay (from Chouilly, Avize and Mesnil-sur-Oger) and Pinot Noir (from Mailly, Verzy and Vezernay) only the second vintage of Hemera spent 12 years on the lees, and has a modest dosage. What a beautiful golden glow to this 14-year-old Champagne. The aromas are somehow golden and glowing too, a burnished hazelnut and brioche richness from its 12 years on the lees, golden toffee moving into a Seville orange and truffle. But against the depth and richness, there is a luminous edge to this; a keen mineral and salt undertow of freshness. On the palate the mousse is fine and creamy, and that sense of saline, mineral, terroir intensity is striking. It is a Champagne with autolytic nutty characters and that pure core of citrus running through it, but that edgey, mouth-watering ozone-fresh finish in many ways defines this wine.

Fortified Wine of The Year

(2020) Deeply saturated purple/black, there's some similarity to the Romaneira aromatically, with those herbal and ashy nuances to the black fruit, a great sense of concentration and purity too. Just superb in the mouth. The gloss and the weight of the black fruit is fabulous - silk and satin, but the cocoa and damson depth is given additional luminescence by a sweet confture blueberry, before the suede-like, very fine tannins wrap themselves around the finish, the juicy acidity already very well integrated. This is a sensuous and fully-realised young Port, surely with decades ahead of it. Available in-bond, as a six-bottle case, from many fine wine merchants in the UK at time of writing.

Extra choice

(2020) Only the second vintage of this 'Small batch' wine from Hampshire, made by Jacob Leadley, ex winemaker at Hattingly Valley from the Champagne grape triumverate of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This is a serious contender for joining the top echelons of English sparkling wine. Opening with a vivacious citrus blast of keen, clean fruit, there are plenty of autolytic notes of biscuit and freshly picked mushrooms, a refined and lightly earthy - and very Champagne-like - character. In the mouth there is fantastic fruit sweetness and generosity, with 8g/l of residual sugar and 20 months on the lees, but it is dry, the lemony, zesty clarity of the finish flashing through a sweet and ripe mid-palate with terrific style, the finish long and fine. A hugely enjoyable first taste of this producer for me. Available from 9th October 2020.

Dud of the Year

(2020) Fermented in stainless steel with "a short maturation in French oak," fruit is sourced from both the Limestone Coast and Grant Burge's Barossa homeland. Fruit is to the fore, melon and apple, just a small suggestion of oak, the wine quite crisp in the finish with pear-drop hints always in the background. I have to say it's a wine that feels just too 'manufactured' - constructed in Australia to be commercially appealing, bottled here in the UK, and I'll expect to see it 'on promotion' at £7 or £8 fairly regularly.

Go to the Wines of the Year 2020 main feature.

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