What a fascinating project this is. Each of the ‘M-Wines’ is released as a strictly limited edition of precisely 1,000 bottles, and the project is intended to allow each of M-Wines’ guest winemakers the freedom to make the best possible wine they can – their ‘dream wine’.
The man behind the project is the mysterious ‘M’, New Zealand born but living in Surrey, who “likes wine and making hand-made chocolates,” and who says “After 21 years in sales and marketing with big corporates I got a bit tired of stretching the truth as far as it could go. I wanted to tell the real personal stories behind these wines. I like the element of helping to develop a passionate young winemaker’s career by allowing them to experiment and stretch themselves.” The result so far is the four wines tasted below, each on sale via the M-Wines website with free UK delivery.
Each of the wines was made by a winemaker as a side-project from their ‘proper’ winemaking jobs, and each is intended to reflect the winemaker’s beliefs and personality. For example, Virgil Kerr who makes the Martinbourgh Pinot Noir, says “My main philosophy is to let the vineyard speak and not get in the way too much. I like purity, elegance and stamina in wines that I make.” Behind the Empordà red from Spain is Oriol Guevara who says “History brought to us La Francesa, a vineyard in the lieu-dit El Garrigal, a millennial winegrowing site that should be re-admitted among world class wines. The Romans knew this nearly 3,000 years ago.”
I won’t reveal the identity of ‘M’, but he tells me that after a life in the global world of wine marketing, he has funded and created this entire project from scratch, finding his winemakers through word-of-mouth recommendations and only working with them once he has met them to discover what makes them tick. He says he wants to be “Satisfied that M-Wines will help their winemaking careers, and that we get along.” I asked if there were more M-Wines in the pipeline: “I have a few lined up, but have to wait until I am a little more flush,” he told me. “I have a project in Portugal ready and waiting, in Sicily, a Californian maybe next year, and someone on the look-out in South Africa for me. And of course I would love to go back to my current winemakers too.”
The M-Wines are expensive at £47.00 each for the red wines and £38.00 for the white. But the perception of value is a tough one to put on this project. In a way I see it as almost like a belated crowd-funding exercise, as 1,000 people have a chance to own one of these fascinating, numbered wines, each coming in a presentation wooden case with a pictorial booklet explaining the individual winemaker’s story. The M-Wines project is beautifully done in terms of its packaging and presentation, but all that and the good intentions behind it would mean nothing unless the wines are good. The concept of giving winemakers complete freedom to ‘go for it’ and make the very best wine they can with no constraints is a great one, and I can put hand on heart and say that, yes, the wines are expensive, but I was bowled over by the quality here. These are amongst the best examples of their different appellations and varietals that I have come across, each a truly artisan product and each of terrific quality.
All wines are available from m-wines.com whilst stocks last. Note also that as well as the first four limited edition wines reviewed here, M-Wines also imports a small selection of New Zealand wines, just a handful of cases of each, with prices starting at £13 per bottle.
M-Wines, Gisborne Viognier by Renée Dale 2013, New Zealand
Renée Dale says “The wine I make is all about the story I want to tell. The nitty-gritty truth, the ups and downs, the pitfalls, the triumphs, the humour!” It’s tough to say whether this bottle contains and of the above, but what it does offer is a beautifully refined take on Viognier, that is all about succulence and precision. The nose has such beautiful poise and elegance, with ripe pear and lightly floral aromatics that are quite tight, but a creaminess beneath of crushed almond, that also melds with a little tropical fruitiness. On the palate it is medium-bodied and the 13.5% alcohol is unobtrusive. There’s a confit lemon character to this, with a touch of salt and plenty of juicy citrus, but that plays against the creamy texture and inherent sweetness of the fruit. Could it be criticised for lacking a little of Viognier’s overtly perfumed character? Well, not by me as I loved the precision and sophistication of this wine. 92/100. £38.00, M-Wines.
M-Wines, Martinborough Pinot Noir by Virgil Kerr 2011, New Zealand
Virgil Kerr is a young Australian winemaker working as a contract winemaker in New Zealand. He suggests this Pinot will drink best in five to eight years from now. It has a charming, pale garnet colour, and a delightfully flower-touched nose, small rose-hip notes, then a briary, lightly herbal nuance, the fruit pretty with strawberry and raspberry character. On the palate there’s a lovely background of creamy cappuccino, but it is overlayed by a nicely sappy, brightly-focused red fruit character and spice. The tannins are quite tight, but they have a finesse and just enough roughening grip at present, and the acidity seems very natural, like cherry skins. With 13.5% alcohol it is balanced, and it is long, with lovely components that should meld further given a little bottle age. A very successful Pinot, typically Marlborough in style, but top-end stuff. 93/100. £47.00, M-Wines.
M-Wines, Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages by Thomas Raynaud 2011, France
A blend of old vine Grenache and Mouvèdre from Maury, with Syrah from the cooler terroir of St Paul de Fenouillet, winemaker Thomas Raynaud says “Fifty years ago these grapes would have been used in Maury Vin doux Naturel. The vines are 40, 50 and in some cases 60+ years old with intense fruit flavours that deserve to be in a high quality dry wine.” And what quality this has: immediately deep and serious, with a combination of ultra-dark and slick black fruit, cedar and plush vanilla touches of oak and an authentic echo of the garrigue, with spices, delicate floral nuances and lovely herby, grassy nuances. The palate is equally svelte, full and complex, with a raft of sweet black fruit flavour floating over spices, little gamy nuances, sweet, sweet tannins and balanced acidity. It is long, rounded and drinks very smoothly, though Thomas predicts it is five years off of its peak. 93-94/100. £47.00, M-Wines.
M-Wines, Empordà by Oriol Guevara 2012, Spain
Winemaker Oriol Guevara is former president of the Catalan winemakers association, and now a flying winemaker and consultant. This wine is made from a plot of 100-year-old Carignan vines planted on red/blue slate soils in a lieu-dit of Empordà called El Garrigal. It’s a real change of pace from the other two wines, especially the Pinot, as it is made in a big (15% abv) and full-throttle style, with lashings of polished, creamy, tremendously fine but slightly dominant oak, and super-ripe, concentrated and plush fruit. The palate is silky and intense, the flood of fruit as deep as a bottomless pool, buttressed by ripe, spicy tannins and the alcohol. The acidity adds a welcome savoury edge as well as that spice and grippy blue/black fruit concentration. It is excellent again of its big and powerhouse style – and it is not without sophistication. A few years in the cellar will do this no harm at all. 92-93/100. £47.00, M-Wines.