What to drink in 2017: Rhône

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

This week Buyer Simon Field MW takes the baton, with the next instalment of our series on what to drink this year, providing notes on the Rhône vintages to crack open in 2017

After the famous quartet of 1998 to 2001, Schubertian in its scope, there was a tendency to wonder if the Rhône could even fail. Hubris was met with such a downpour in 2002 and such a cruel drought in 2003, the question has seldom been repeated. Yet, paradoxically , many of the more recent vintages have indeed been hard to separate; I’m referring especially to 2011, 2012 and 2013, all excellent and yet without the obvious  lure of the magnificent 2010 (a keeper), 2009 (especially good in the North) or 2007 (better, on balance, in the South).

The 2005 vintage is still resolutely tannic; it may well sulk until the last syllable of recorded time. The 2006s are still a delight; fresh, aromatic and charming but not lacking for backbone. The weakest of recent years have been 2008, with mid-season mildew a problem across the valley, and 2014, with the famous drosophila fruit fly wreaking havoc in bizarre and near-tropical humidity.

The 2015 vintage looks set to be very fair indeed, with something of the Palladian elegance of 2010 and maybe a hint of the Rococo 2007 added for good measure. In Côte-Rôtie, especially, the runes are positive.

If you have any, start to look at the ‘99s and ‘01s. The more gregarious ‘98 and ‘00 may be approaching a plump middle-age, but the best will still hold court with Pompadourian elegance. The 2004 vintage often gets forgotten and may prove very agreeable indeed.

Of the allegedly anonymous trio rehearsed above, ‘11 was warmer, so is probably more forward, ‘13 a very late season which engendered complexity and no lack of charisma, and ‘12 was like a younger, maybe less gifted, brother to 2010. So not that similar at all: diversity reigns and 2015 will once again underline the magnificent quality/price ratio offered by the Rhône.

The 2015 vintage from the Rhône will be offered en primeur in March of this year, with the opportunity to try the wines yourself at our tasting on 8th March.

Category: Miscellaneous,Rhône Wine

The evolution of Australia

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

The land Down Under isn’t necessarily associated with dainty wines (or characters), but – as our Buyer Catriona Felstead MW explains – there is much more than oak-laden Chardonnay and Shiraz coming out of the country today, with a new generation of artisanal producers seeking to re-define Australian wine

Australia Day (this year on Thursday 26th January) is celebrated by Australians across the globe. Thoughts inevitably turn towards stereotypical images of barbecues, beaches and kangaroos but, on the London wine scene, this week is dominated by the annual Australia Day trade tasting and the multiple events surrounding it with visiting Australian producers.

There was a time when this prospect might not have gladdened the hearts of everyone in the UK wine trade. Despite dominating the number one position for mass-market, high-volume sales in the UK for a number of years, it is fair to say that Australia has struggled with the image of its premium wines. That is not to say that there was anything wrong with them at all; Australia has always been at the forefront of technically correct, scientifically advantaged wines. What was lacking was excitement.

Weighed down by memories of the heavily oaked Chardonnays of the past, consumers’ thoughts were not of Australian white wines at the premium level. Sommeliers (the movers and shakers of UK wine trends), on the other hand, have seen such Chardonnays veer completely to the other extreme: lean and austere wines, which are equally unpalatable. Red wines were often rich and thick in style – the joke being that one would need a knife and fork to tackle them. Whilst this appealed to some, many in the wine trade have historically found these styles just a bit too predictable to shout about.

Fortunately, times are a-changing and Australia is, at last, getting “cool” again. There have always been some maverick winemakers Down Under but a new generation is coming through now who are focusing this natural flair into handcrafting some exceptionally well-made yet truly interesting wines. These producers were championed at a new-wave style tasting run by Wine Australia in London last September. It was called Artisans of Australia and included wines from the likes of Gembrook Hill and Circe who are both leading the field when it comes to seriously delicate, yet elegant, complex (almost “Old World”) Pinot Noir.

Others are undertaking exciting blends with Italian and Iberian varietals, which are so well suited to the often Mediterranean climate of the Australian coastline. Crittenden Estate pays homage to the classic Catalonian mix of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Tempranillo with their delicious Los Hermanos Homenaje wine, while Duane Coates looks to the Douro for inspiration for his Touriga Nacional-dominated wine, The IberianDavid Mazza is a trailblazer in the little-known region of Geographe in Western Australia, making a single-varietal Graciano, a Portuguese-style red, Cinque, as well as an absolutely delicious rosé made from the obscure variety Bastardo (apologies for any offence caused but that is actually the name of the grape).

Such “artisans” have reinvigorated the Australian wine scene, driving interest from the top down. Whilst most consumers will still associate this great country with Chardonnay and Shiraz for some time yet, there is so much more to discover in Australian wine. Hopefully, such wines will gradually achieve wider recognition in the UK market as Australia rightfully takes its place again as one of the most fascinating wine countries in the world.

Browse a short-list of artisanal Australian wines here on bbr.com.

Category: New World

What makes a great vintage?

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Winemakers everywhere have one eye permanently on the weather: storms at the wrong time can destroy an entire vintage. In spring, as here in Bordeaux, frost can kill the emerging buds, or a hailstorm can strip them right off. Photograph: Jason Lowe

The 2015 vintage has been praised far and wide – producing remarkable wines from Germany to Burgundy, but what has made it a good year? What makes any vintage better than another? In an extract from our introductory book, Exploring & Tasting Wine, Mark Pardoe MW explains

Sometimes Bordeaux is even busier than usual for the “en primeur” tastings, because the word is out that it’s a great vintage. For the Anglophone, “vintage” is a problematic word, with its connotations of age and venerability; but in its original French, and in use throughout the wine trade, it just means the production of a single, identified year.

The creation of any wine is the culmination of an agricultural process. Each autumn, grapes ripen on vines, are harvested and then turned into wine. The quality of that wine depends on where those vineyards are situated, and on what the weather did that year.

The success of any given vintage will depend on the ripeness of the grapes – not just in terms of sugar levels, but how the tannins and acidities have “ripened” as well. Unripe tannins make red wines too bitter; unripe (high) acidity shows as sharpness.

The ideal time to harvest is when all these elements are in prime condition – but a cool spring or a wet August may mitigate success, and so the skill of the vigneron is to judge the moment to pick, to maximize success.

In regions with reliable and predictable weather patterns, the variations can be less marked; but more marginal regions, where the grapes creep more slowly towards full maturity, demonstrate greater variations. This gentle, final fulfilment of maturity is also vital for the accumulation of complexity in the final product.

On a broader scale, the vintage is the measure of a wine’s age. Some wines require maturation to show all that they are capable of, and the length of maturation will depend on the quality and style of the vintage. Other wines demand enjoyment earlier in their life-cycle. The knowledge of the vintage is the key to this fulfilment.

Technical understanding of both grape-growing and winemaking is now at such a level that the concept of a poor year is becoming almost (but not quite) inconceivable. Certainly the big names of the wine world are in a position of such security that the sacrifices necessary to discard any fruit deemed unsuitable are well within their compass, so that whatever is produced will be worthy of the name.

So, what is a “great” vintage? It is one where all these elements have come together under near-ideal conditions. But great vintages are not normal vintages; it would be more accurate to label them as “exceptional”, as they only tend to occur two or three times per decade.

For the rest of the time, any wine’s true personality is better expressed by the more frequent “lesser” vintages. These may be marked by a greater or lesser perception of some of the wine’s typical characteristics, but all should be treated as representative of each wine’s heritage.

Fundamentally, every wine that is produced, great or small, is an expression of one year in time – a snapshot of history and a reflection of life and its vicissitudes.

Find out more about the world of wine at one of our events.

Category: Bordeaux Wine,Miscellaneous,Wine School

What to drink in 2017: red Burgundy

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Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

In the latest instalment in our guide on what to drink in 2017, Tom Cave turns his eye to red Burgundy, detailing which vintages to let lie and which to start sipping

The 1999s, at Premier and Grand Cru level, are still developing, though anyone lucky enough to have any should by now have at the very least broached a case to see how they are. The 2000 and 2001 vintages continue to offer some real pleasure and are, in the main, at their best. Fifteen years on and the 2002s are as good as ever hoped. The higher tier wines will go on, the others should be enjoyed now as they have reached their optimum drinking plateau. The 2003 vintage is one to be approached now at all levels, if you haven’t already, though they are holding up well despite the heat of the vintage. The 2004s have a hardness and they don’t seem to be softening – most of these should be consumed soon if not already.

The 2005s from lesser vineyards are glorious now and a wonderful indicator of just how good their peers will be, still developing and with years ahead of them. It is time to start looking at 2006 and 2008, while drinking up most remaining 2007s. The wines of 2009, and 2010, offer excellent drinking at more everyday levels; those higher up the scale, for high days and holidays, have more to offer and warrant further cellarage. Generic Burgundy and “lesser” village wines from both 2011 and 2012 are most satisfying now, with more to come from more exalted vineyards. The 2013s, and 2014s, remain for now a “hold”, but Cru Beaujolais from these vintages can be very exciting and excellent value.

Browse our collection of Burgundy, including the excellent 2015 vintage en primeur, on bbr.com.

Category: Burgundy Wine,Miscellaneous