Last year was a particularly good year for drinking for me, I have to admit it. Thanks to all the fantastic people I met and venues I discovered, who all work with some beautiful products, I got to both taste and drink (sometimes a bit too much) some amazing stuff. Some of these wines were tasted at events or trade tastings, some at my favourite bars & restaurants, and a few were tasted at wineries I visited (which was too rare in 2014). You’ll notice that many of these wines are Italian which very much reflects where I was at this year working for an importer of Italian wines, and also visiting Italy in June.
Let me know what you think, and tell me in the comments what were your highlight wines for 2014.
Back in February I had a chance to taste Cappellano for the first time, and immediately confirmed it as my favourite Barolo of all time. It was at the Rootstock Sydney festival in the sweaty smoky conditions, and I also had the chance to meet Augusto Cappellano who was showing the wine. Super traditional, the way I like it, with no oak character, just super fine sinewy tannins and crunchy red fruits. Throughout the year I had a chance to try the 2005 and the 2004 vintages, both still absolute babies and proving the ageing potential of these wines.
So here comes the first of a number of wines I enjoyed in 2014 that the company I currently work for imports, which is Lario International. Villa Bucci is a producer in Le Marche region on the Adriatic coast, and makes some of the finest white wine in Italy from the verdicchio variety. I’ve heard some compare his Riserva wine (which must be aged in oak for 18 months plus 6 months in bottle before release) compared with cru white burgundy with age, and this 2007 from magnum I tasted at a special Italian wine dinner at Gertrude St Enoteca certainly confirmed that.
Not a wine I expected to be able to taste this year, nor one 20 years old. Soldera is one of Montalcino’s greatest producers of sangiovese wine, and extremely rare they are. They have become rarer still more recently thanks to a disgruntled ex-employee breaking in and destroying significant amounts of this apparent “hens teeth” wine. There’s no doubt that Gianfranco Soldera is a polarising personality, but there’s also no doubt he makes compelling wines. Even at this age the wine had plenty of life left in it, at least another ten years, but showed no hallmarks of oak that are required for Riserva wines. Stunning.
Back in June 2014 I visited Italy for about three weeks, partly to catch up with friends, partly on my way to a wedding in Cognac (France), but mostly to visit producers that are represented in the portfolio I sell here. Most certainly the highlight wine of my visits was at Massa Vecchia, which is a tiny producer in the Maremma region of Tuscany. Massa Vecchia bucks so many trends in Tuscany it’s hard to categorise them. They use biodynamic principals in the vineyards but aren’t part of the certification any more. They work with some indigenous Italian varieties like sangiovese and aleatico, but many introduced varieties like merlot. All wines are fermented on skins, including the Bianco, but the 2010 Rosato just spoke to me. It’s not even a rosé wine, more of a light red, but with very firm tannins and amazing length. Again, this is a wine that is pretty hard to find, even in Italy, but if you do find it it’s worth the money.
As mentioned part of my trip to Italy was to visit friends, and one of those is good friend Jacopo Cossater (make sure to listen to the episode of The Vincast he appears on). As he was interested in trying some Australian wine – which are very hard to source in Italy – I brought a few bottles. The real standout was the 2012 Syrah made by Tom Shobbrook from fruit grown in the Seppeltsfield sub-region of the Barossa Valley. In spite of the very warm climate in this part of Australia, and the intensity and weight you would expect of a Shiraz wine, this was exceptionally balanced, vibrant and fresh, full on the palate but not jammy nor overly alcoholic. It certainly captured Jacopos imagination.
I opened this, the second and final bottle I had bought, around my birthday in July. For those unfamiliar, Hanging Rock were an early adopter of the Heathcote region, and apart from Jasper Hill were the pioneers of Shiraz from Heathcote, which for a period was the premier Shiraz region in Victoria, but lately has lost its sheen somewhat for that variety. It’s pretty telling how much wine has changed in Australia (and globally for that matter) that the Hanging Rock Shiraz 1992 was 12.5% alcohol, whereas these days you’d be hard pressed to find any less that 14.5%. I think I caught this at just the right time, it still had a very small amount of fruit left.
Continuing the magnum theme (and another magnum from the importer I work for), this was one of the producers I visited in June that I loved and were so generous and hospitable. This was the last magnum of the Vigna della Bra Soave 2009 that we had, and boy was it amazing. Filippi grow all of their fruit organically up in the hills of Soave, and only use garganega in their soave wines. This is their uber-cru soave, with basalt and limestone running through the clay soils. This explains the amazing combination of struck-match from the limestone, and the volcanic minerality from the basalt. It was just one bottle of a very boozy night, one of many in 2014.
I had been interested in this producer from Sicily for a while, but I had no idea how few bottles end up in Australia and how quickly they sell. I managed to secure a few bottles of the Nerocapitano (one of which is sitting in the cellar), and one of the Bianco 2013. Very interestingly this wine is made from vermentino, not a particularly common variety on Sicily. Even more interestingly it has some time on skins to give it some colour and more importantly, some tannin. In spite of this it still has plenty of racy acid, fruit and best of all, freshness!
St Vincent is as a wine is probably better known by his Italian name – Vin Santo – which is essentially what this wine is. Vin Santo is a style of Italian dessert wine, mostly from Tuscany, generally made from white grapes but occasionally from reds. Sometimes they are referred to as straw wines as the grapes are dried after harvesting to concentrate the sugars further. Typically the wine will sit in a small barrel for more than a few years, with plenty of oxidation and reduction of volume, making this a pretty interesting expression for sweet wine. This version made by the incomparable Giles Lapalus is rarely opened, not even listed on their website, and is pretty amazing. But not as amazing as the label, which got me a lot of likes on Instagram and Facebook.
If there is a producer of Beaujolais that I like more than this, I’m yet to find it. There’s a reason why Jean Foillard is so loved in the coolest wine bars and restaurants, and it’s because the wines are low intervention expressions but still deliciously relatable even for the anti-natural types. These are wines that are part of the reason that Beaujolais is experiencing a rebirth with the hipster set, and no self-respecting sommelier should be without at least one example on their list. I had this at Persillade later in the year, and I had the 2011 and 2012 vintage of the Cuvée Corcelette both at The Town Mouse, and all the wines have the faintest rawness with earthy tannins and plenty of freshness. Seek them out if you can!
Literally days after reading the fantastic issue of Noble Rot that featured Champagne, and seeing the profile on Jérôme Prévost I was very interested to try the wine. I find myself less interested in champagne these days, partly as I worked for Domaine Chandon for so many years and they’re owned by the biggest champagne company in the world, but you can get some great bubbles from elsewhere without needing to spend so much, and there is a lot less interesting wine coming out of the region. This champagne however, rare as it is in Australia, was pretty special, possibly one of the best champagnes I’ve ever tasted. Worth the hype I feel, if you see it in a shop or on a wine list, do not hesitate.
Speaking of other options as far as bubbles, prosecco continues its meteoric rise to be the most consumed sparkling wine in the world, and this is no different in Australia. With the slew of local producers (somewhat controversially according to the Italians), and the veritable ocean of cheaper indistinct examples being imported from Italy, there are plenty of different wines you can get. At some point consumers will get tired of tired flabby and over sweet examples and will hopefully turn to better products, like my Christmas bubbles of choice, this Col Fondo (bottle refermentation without disgorging) Prosecco grown organically in Valdobbiadene. It’s a bit cloudy from the lees, it’s very salty and minerally on the palate, but overall it’s very bright and fresh and just a lovely wine.
Where better to finish than with a lovely digestif, and they don’t come much better that the Vin de Liqueur of Pierre Overnoy. Pierre is one of the superstars of the natural wine world, and his wines are exceptionally rare, even in France and his own region of Jura. Known for adding no SO2 to his wines, this Vin de Liqueur is a bit different as it is made by adding marc (distilled grape skins, otherwise known as grappa) to unfermented grape juice, then left to age in a cask for many years. It was brought by Bill Downie to one of the great long lunches of 2014, held at Belles Hot Chicken by the one and only Morgan McGlone. Not a bad way to end the year…