Tasting notes for Wines of the Year 2006

Château Haut-Brion (France) Pessac-Léognan 1976
On holiday in the Loire towards the end of May, I drank many lovely Loire wines, but the undoubted highlight of the trip was a splurge on this wine. Haut-Brion is always, but always, one of the most refined and charming of the Bordeaux first growths. 1976 is regarded as one of its good, but not great vintages, but I have to say this bottle was just outstanding. Filled with a perfume of rich berry fruit, pencil shaving and a sweet, bloody earthiness, the wine is immediately inviting, suave and polished. On the palate it has beautiful fruit, despite the fact that 1976 had some rain and dilution before harvest, with a smoky and mineral earthiness and just delightfully resolved tannins and gentle acids that played into a long, fruity, gently spicy finish. A brilliant wine experience. Around £110.

Dönnhoff (Germany) Riesling Oberhäuser Brücke Spätlese 2005
Fruit is the overriding driving force here, with sweet, ripe pear and ripe apple aromas, and a touch of juicy nectarine. There is still that signature undertone of minerality. Beautifully smooth, silky palate, where sweet fruit plays very delicately on the palate – there is such purity and finesse, with an achingly pure, ethereal quality to the fruit. Fabulous balance again, with all the acidity and hints of spice and waxy weight perfectly composed within the overall framework. Stunning. From a very special vineyard close to the river (“Brücke” means bridge) with a microclimate that sees warmer days and cooler nights, from soils which are slaty, but covered with a layer of loam.

Wild Rock (New Zealand) Gravel Pit Red Merlot/Malbec 2002
Wild Rock is the second label of Craggy Range, one of the most impressive wine estates in New Zealand, based in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island where their beautiful new winery and immaculately tended vineyards shout of quality and investment. This Merlot and Malbec blend has nice dark, dramatically rich black fruits on the nose. There’s a nice richness and sweetness here, with hints of black olive, but mostly spicy, meaty black fruit. On the palate a good black fruit quality. Plenty of damson and bittersweet black plum and cherry, and a fine smoky rounding out with oak. Well-balanced. Do not worry if it is the 2003 or 2004 that you come across: I’ve tasted both and they are just is good – the 2004 possibly better. £8.99 Noel Young.

Quinta de Simaens (Portugal) Vinho Verde 2005
A much maligned wine name, the truth is that whilst plenty of the Vinho Verde produced in Portugal’s most northerly, cool vineyards is rather weedy stuff, there are producers there, as everywhere, marching to a very different beat. This very superior example comes at a seriously bargain price for its quality, and like som much Portuguese wine, also offers something a bit different. A blend of Pederna, Avesso and Trejadura, it comes from a single vineyard and bursts from the glass with exotic aromas of lychee, blossom and crunchy, fresh citrus fruit. On the palate it has a wonderful concentration, with an extremely focused, pure core fruit, gently wrapped in a vibrant, juicy acidity. Delicious, and although 13.0% ABV, it wears it well. £5.49, Waitrose

Domaine Ostertag (France) ‘Temps’ Gewürztraminer Frohholz VT 2004
André Ostertag is one of the superstar producers in Alsace, who is as radical as his wines are excellent. His 14 hectares are all farmed biodynamically, and include over 120 different vineyard parcels covering five villages, from which he produces 17 different wines. Since 1984 André has rejected official classification and instead created his own: Vin de fruits (wines that he thinks do not express a specific terroir in green bottles); Vin des Pierres (‘stone’ wines in brown bottles – terroir specific wines) and Vin de Temps (sweet wines in clear bottles, ‘Temps’ indicating both time spent on vine and the right weather conditions). The grapes for this ‘Temps’ late-harvest Gewürztraminer were picked in the third week of November. It has a brilliant nose with huge luscious, honeyed ripeness, but not masking the spice and lychee flavour of the Gewurz. Terrific quality. The palate is beautifully rich and ripe, with scintillating balance and precision to the flavours, with floral, spice and lychee and guava fruit, and beautiful definition of grapefruit flavour and acidity.

Bollinger (France) Champagne RD 1990
I was lucky enough to have dinner with Stephen Leroux, Director of Marketing for Champagne Bollinger, and we drank both the current 1997 Bollinger Grand Année and the 1990 ‘RD’, or ‘Recently Disgorged’. The 1997 is a fabulously toasty wine, and worthy of consideration for Sparkling Wine of the Year, and it can be picked up for £40 or so on one of the Champagne deals that are around at the moment. But the 1990 was just sublime. With 98 points from Robert Parker it has a lot of followers, and I can see why: it has a beautiful colour and masses of pin-prick bubbles, with a nose that does have toast and brioche notes over fine lemon fruit, but it has a real elegance and subtly about it that is beguiling. On the palate it is refined, the nutty and nettly aspects subdued by pure fruit and a softly persistent mousse.

Joan d’Anguera (Spain) Vi Dolc 2001
Fortified wine from 50 year-old Grenache which is very low yielding. Picked overripe (at the end of October, rather than the early September for dry cuvées) there is around 80 – 90 gm/l of residual sugar. The wine is matured in barrels in a hot environment, and has a lovely pale colour and a fine little rancio note. There’s a walnut and raisin character and a fine raspberry and orange peel, with a touch of leaf tea. Beautiful fruit freshness, with a delightful, pure fruit, notes of red cherry and blackberry, but that lovely warmth of walnut, vanilla and dried fruits comes through. Fine chocolate and tobacco notes, with delightful acidity and still a lick of very fine tannins against the sweet, intense fruit and all that orange pithy acidity. Terrific wine with fantastic length. Around 24 Euros, but unfortunately not in the UK – only 400 bottles are produced.

Zonte’s Footsteps (Australia) Shiraz/Viognier 2004
This wine was chosen as “dud” of the year not because it is a bad or faulty wine, but mainly because some well known newspaper columnists raved about it, yet I was distinctly underwhelmed – all flash and no substance. The Viogier (only 7% according the back label) certainly makes some impact on the nose, giving this wine a curiously floral, perfumed aroma like Parma violets and lavender. That, along with equally aromatic strawberryish fruit dominates, though a glimpse of vanilla and spice comes through. On the palate that sweet essence of liquidised strawberry and creamy soft-centre raspberry chocolates continues, with a big, quite hot alcoholic kick (14.5%) the only thing to really support the creaminess of fruit and texture. In the finish there is spice, a note of chocolate and some background tannin, but the wine actually starts to fall apart slightly, the heat and tannin separating from the excessively jammy fruit and oak.

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