July 2019

Cool climate North America

In July I visited two different cool climate wine region in North America: Niagara (in Ontario) and the North Fork of Long Island. For a long time these less travelled regions were one line entries in wine encyclopedias; today, as the climate changes, they are increasingly less marginal for viticulture and can consistently make excellent wine.

Niagara was the first Canadian wine region I have visited, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Given the short growing season, cool climate varieties fare best, and I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir wines I tasted. A highlight was a visit to the famed ice wine producer, Inniskillin, where they produce not only white and red ice wines from from frozen grapes, but also very rare (and delicious) sparkling ice wine.

In New York, I visited Macari Vineyards, courtesy of my friend Gabriella Macari. On a wonderful site above the Long Island Sound, Macari works the vineyards biodynamically, being willing to sacrifice making certain wines (especially the reds) in difficult vintages rather than use chemicals in the vineyard. The wines are full of fruit and joy, and my picks were the zippy rosé (and Horses, the rosé sparkling), the peppery Syrah and the various wines made of the red Bordeaux varieties. They offer a lovely visitor experience with a tasting room and an outstanding pizza oven.

Bordeaux: Vintages to Drink Now

Based on recent tastings, here’s an overview of which red Bordeaux vintages are drinking well today at classed growth level (and equivalent on the Right Bank).

2010 and younger: wait - with the exception of 2013 where you should try anything below First Growth level.

2009/2008/2006/2005: these remain quite primary, especially the 2005, which seems like it was just bottled yesterday. However, the tannins are beginning to soften so these vintages are becoming more accessible.

2007/2004/2002/2001: these are lighter vintages that are all drinking well today.

2003/2000/1998: there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from these vintage today, especially from the Right Bank. From the Left Bank I would really like to leave the best wines for another five years just to open up a little more.

1996/1995: 1996 is better on the Left Bank, and almost all wines are drinking beautifully now. 1995 on the Left Bank remains a very slow aging vintage with high levels of tannin. 1995s from the Right Bank are glorious now.

1990/1989/1988: the best vintage of this trio is now indisputably 1989, but all three vintages are wonderful to drink today.

1986/1985/1982: the First Growths from these years continue to drink very well; below that level, however, some drinkers may find the wines a little mature as the fruit begins to fade.

A Thought on Greatness in Wine

Last month I was fortunate to taste several really memorable wines. First was Mouton Rothschild 1982 from magnum; another was Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Riserva 1998 and a third was Roumier Ruchottes Chambertin 2002. Which made me ponder: what does greatness taste like? What distinguishes these wines from others?

What’s most interesting to me is the way that they are not great because they are so much different from their peers. In a way, it’s the opposite: they are the perfect expression of their genre or type. The Barbaresco seemed to be that place and that variety distilled down to its essence. The Roumier was like the Platonic form of Burgundy: autumnal, melancholic, wistful. If you had an idea in your head of what Left Bank Bordeaux tastes like, the Mouton would fit it perfectly.

In these terms, true greatness in wine is a question of familiarity and continuity rather than radical difference or strangeness. And I for one find that quietly reassuring.

June 2019

The Greece Edition

I spent most of the past month in and around the Mediterranean, making the most of the early summer sun before the European school holidays. My tour took me from Santorini to Crete, then to Naples and Venice - all of it wonderful. It was mostly non-wine vacation, but me being me, I did manage to squeeze in a couple of winery visits...

Hatzidakis

While on Santorini, I enjoyed a wonderful and extensive visit to arguably the greatest producer of Santorini wines - Hatzidakis, a brilliant, family winery founded by the late Haridimos Hatzidakis, who died prematurely in 2017. Now run by co-founder Konstantina Chryssou, her daughter Stella Hatzidakis and winemaker Stella Papadimitriou, the estate continues to set the standard for Santorini.

All of their Assyrtiko wines are worth seeking out, and I also thoroughly enjoyed the reds from the indigenous Mavrotragano variety. Both reds and whites are full of flavour, energy and age worthiness.

A Primer on Greek Wine

Probably it’s just associations with the wonderful vacations I’ve spent in Greece, but I love drinking both Greek whites and reds during the summer. An increasingly diverse range is available in the US market - now is the time to try.

  • Santorini - the name of the island in wine terms is simply a reference to the signature white wine from Santorini, made from the Assyrtiko variety. Powerful, with lots of acid and a distinctive smoky minerality, it’s one the world’s most distinctive whites, and certainly Greece’s most important.

  • Other whites from around the country: from Santorini also look out for the Aidani variety, making fresh, vibrant wines that impressed me. Savatiano, Moschofilero and Malagousia are delightfully fresh, aromatic wines served chilled.

  • In red wines, the king of Greek red varieties is Xinomavro, whose best region of origin Naoussa, in the north. It’s a haunting, aromatic, ageworthy variety best compared to Nebbiolo. Also worth tasting is Agiorgitiko, a simple, more juicy wine sold at very reasonable prices.

  • And a word for the maligned Retsina: more careful winemaking in recent years has hugely improved the quality of the pine infused wine - if you see it in a restaurant, try a glass before or after dinner. You may be surprised.

To try…

Top Greek producers: Hatzidakis and Sigalas (Santorini); Lyrarakis (unusual varieties from Crete); Boutari (from across the country, a big producer but good quality for very affordable prices); Kir-Yianni (earthly wines from Naoussa).

And the best place to drink wine in Santorini: Selene in Pyrgos, whose restaurant offers world class, Michelin style food and an extensive wine list; perhaps just as enjoyable however, is the wine bar downstairs, with perfect, unpretentious Greek food and excellent wines. The sommelier is the wonderful Georgia Tsara.

May 2019

May news and views from Nick Jackson MW

In this newsletter: some non-wine travel; an update on all things Burgundy; the new vintage of port to be released and the best wines I drank this month

Peru

I spent much of May in beautiful Peru for some non-wine vacation. Some friends and I undertook the five day Salkantay trek, arriving on the final day at the great Inca site of Machu Picchu.  We trekked among some of Peru’s highest mountains (we reached 15,200 feet) and then plunged down into the jungle - an amazing experience.

Burgundy: spring update

Burgundy is hard to understand at the best of times, so here is an update on where we stand in spring 2019.

  • Current vintage on the market2016.  Small volumes, good quality but need to wait because red wines are compact and fruity.  White wines are good. Arriving in the summer/fall: 2017.  These are mid weight, bright reds with good terroir expression, if not profound.  The whites are very good - the best since 2014.  2018: all signs indicate an excellent vintage and much more ageworthy than the 2017s.  

  • Best vintages for drinking nowwhite: 2014, 2012, 2010.  Red: 2011, 2007, 2002, 2001, 1999

  • Under-rated/value producersFaiveley (the 2016s are outstanding across the board from this revitalised house); Bernard-Bonin (lovely Meursault); Berthaut-Gerbet (single-handedly reviving Fixin’s reputation); Duroché(charming Gevrey-Chambertin); Coquard-Loison-Fleurot (buy everything you can while the prices remain this low).

2017 Port

Vintage port declarations are rare, and it almost never happens that two successive vintages are declared.  But that has happened with 2016 and now 2017 - both great vintages, but as I discovered this month when tasting the 2017s, with very different styles.

While 2016 is straight-laced, linear and intellectual, 2017 is more frank and open, with great generosity of fruit while remaining finely etched and pure.  The 2017s are both hedonistic and cerebral - I loved them.  While all the big names made wonderful wines, the following were showing particularly well already: Cockburn(for value), Dow and Noval.  And if you can find them, any of the rare single vineyard wines will make for great investment choices: Noval NacionalTaylor’s Vargellas VV or Graham’s Stone Terraces.  All the wines will hit the shelves in the coming months.

The Best Wines I Drank in May

  • René Engel Grands Echezeaux 1985 - an unbelievable privilege to drink this, one of 600 bottles made, from a legendary vintage.  A perfectly weightless, serene, silky, gamey beauty.

  • DRC La Tâche 1996 - shows all the complexity and beauty you look for in DRC, and avoids the excessive acidity of many ‘96s.  Gorgeous to drink today, but has the substance to improve over the next 15+ years.

  • Dujac Clos de la Roche 1995 (magnum) - from an unsung vintage, this was glorious, mature, gamey Burgundy - pure pleasure.

  • Corison Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 - never let it be said that I don’t enjoy American wines!  At a vertical tasting with Cathy Corison, this was a treat - sumptuous, velvety and irresistible today.

  • Domaine Ramonet, Chassagne-Montrachet Boudriotte 2014 - from my favourite recent white Burgundy vintage, this is sheer, dazzling Ramonet brilliance, with layers of glorious flavour.  Top white Burgundy.

April 2019

April news and views from Nick Jackson MW

In this newsletter: an update on the about-to-be-released Bordeaux 2018 vintage; a few days spent in Portugal and of course, the best wines I drank in the past month

Bordeaux 2018

At the beginning of the month, Sotheby’s Wine took me to Bordeaux to taste barrel samples of the new, 2018 vintage en primeur (Futures).  You can read my full vintage report, wine recommendations and tasting notes on the Sotheby’s Wine website.  The short version is, to quote myself, ’2018…is, with qualifications, a great vintage for red wines.’  While buying Bordeaux Futures is not as attractive to many drinkers as it once was, if you want to dip your toe in the water, 2018 is a great vintage to do so: there are many thrilling wines. The wines are beginning to be released now.

Portugal

After almost ten days in Bordeaux, I spent four days in and around Lisbon.  It’s a beautiful, historic city and one of Europe’s top tourist destinations at present.  A friend and I took the opportunity to visit some nearby vineyards.  One of the smallest and most distinctive wine styles in Europe comes from almost its westernmost point: Colares.  Here the vines are grown on sand perched above the Atlantic.  We had a wonderful visit with arguably the best producer, Viuva Gomes, whose tiny production white and red wines last for fifty years plus.

Just north of Lisbon we also had the opportunity to visit one of Portugal’s great white winemakers: Pedro Marques at Vale da Capucha.  He is making thrilling whites from indigenous varieties, packed with tension and vibrancy - seek them out!

Portuguese wine: a few pointers

Best regionsDouro (for red table wines and port); Bairrada and Dao (for long aging whites and reds); Alentejo (warm climate reds, occasional whites).  

Tips: buy old.  Portuguese wines last forever and never seem to go up in price, both for whites and reds.  Reds are dusty, dry and have only moderate alcohol.  Whites are salty and mineral.  Both colors are totally authentic, dry, affordable European wines.

Producers: One that is often available in the US is Caves Sao Joao/Quinta do Poco do Lobo, whose whites and reds last forever and are priced very reasonably.

The Best Wines I Drank in April

We were spoiled in Bordeaux by some very generous hosts.

  • Margaux 2000 - simply a brilliant Margaux.  Will really blossom in about 6-8 years, but already fabulously rich in aromas and flavours with a melting texture.  A rival to the exceptional 1996.

  • Cheval Blanc 2009 - this is already so gulp-able!  It may be more 2009 than Cheval, but who cares - this is spicy, exuberant, compelling. 

  • Champagne Salon 1999 - classic Salon in full bloom now with no need to wait any longer. Opulent, creamy, emphatic - an extroverted beauty.

  • Pichon Baron 1961 (magnum): it is always a privilege to taste one of the last century’s great vintages.  This is still so youthful - it could be 20 or 30 years younger, especially from magnum.  The yields in ’61 were tiny, and this is concentrated, rich and thickly textured, with a slightly port-like nose. It remains superb.

  • Champagne Bollinger Grande Année 2008 - the polar opposite to the Salon is the latest release from Bollinger. In this vintage they have tightened up their style significantly to produce a laser-focused wine of immense purity with good oak integration.  I have had so many issues with oxidation in Bollinger, but happily this looks like a totally different style of wine.

March 2019

In this newsletter: an update on my business, a love letter to Chianti, my latest vinous discoveries, and of course, the best bottles I drank this month.

What is your business again?

I'm often asked what my business is, so here’s a snapshot of work I’ve done so far this year:

  • I advise private clients on wines to buy, to drink and to cellar.  I identify lots at auction and at retail that would make for excellent drinking or investment and execute purchases.  I manage client inventories, storage and all logistics concerned with wine purchases and delivery.

  • I perform inventories for private clients on a one-off basis, organise cellars and make recommendations for what to drink and what, if anything, might profitably be sold.

  • I host guided tastings and dinners for private clients and businesses.

  • I advise wineries on marketing and sales in the US market.


A Paean to Chianti

For years - decades, even - Chianti was a joke of a wine.  With its wicker flask (the fiasco) the wine was the poor, country cousin of Tuscany’s great wine, Brunello.  But no more!  To my mind Chianti is producing some of Tuscany’s most thrilling wines today; heavenly, ethereal wines that showcase the many virtues of the Sangiovese variety, and all for very affordable prices.

Why the current success of Chianti?  1) Better winemaking: since about 2011, we’ve seen a movement away from extraction and heaviness and towards lightness and finesse, a style that suits the Sangiovese so well; 2) less blending - Sangiovese by itself is wonderful, and the movement away from including the dull international varieties has much improved the wines; 3) a run of excellent vintages: 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Producers to look out for: Fontodi, whose 2015 Chianti Classico is a perfumed beauty; Felsina, whose Chianti Colli Senese 2016 is crazy value at under $20; and wonderful classicists Castell in’Villa and Castello di Monsanto.    

New Discoveries

I attend many tastings every month, and am always discovering producers new to me.  This month the following jumped out at me.  I apologize to those of you who know these estates already, but I was excited to get to know them!

  • Moreau-Naudet, Chablis: long aging on the lees gives wines of remarkable depth and mineral authority in the Premier Cru wines.  These are benchmark, intellectual Chablis.

  • Yvon Clerget, Volnay: I tasted the ‘15s, ‘16s and ‘17s this month, and each was better than the last.  The 2017s are pure Volnay heaven.

  • Walter Scott, Willamette Valley, Oregon: some of the best Oregon Chardonnay I have encountered, and lovely Pinot Noir (particularly the 2017 Sojourner Vineyard).

  • Cosimo Taurino, Puglia: bargain basement southern Italian reds.  Check out their (current vintage!) 2010s for around $15/bottle - crazy value.

The Best Wines I Drunk in March

  • Louis Roederer Cristal 1996 - an unbelievably wonderful bottle.  For me, Roederer is first among equals of the grandes marques, and while Cristal may not quite have the longevity of Dom Perignon, when it’s been appropriately aged, it’s sublime.  And today, this is.  Do whatever you can to find it.

  • Margaux 2001 - Margaux really shines in these good but not great vintages.  There’s a gorgeous sensual perfume and the tannins are soft now, but this will be great for at least another 10 years.

  • Fourrier Gevrey Combe Aux Moines 1999/Fourrier Gevrey Cherbaudes 2009 - capturing red Burgundy at the right moment is as much luck as it is experience, but in their very different modes, both of these Fourrier bottles were outstanding.  The 1999 is at last softening and giving so much pleasure, while the 2009 has a shimmering beauty and distinction not often associated with this warm year.

  • Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2007 - surely too young?  Not at all.  Yes, it is still primary, but I for one love the purity of those high toned Barolo aromas.  The tannins are mellow now and this was pitch perfect Barolo for now and over the next 15+ years.

February 2019

New initials after my name

On Friday last week I learned that, after several years of study, I had passed the final stage of the Master of Wine qualification, and I am now a Master of Wine (MW).  The MW is generally considered the highest qualification in the wine world; there are 384 MWs in the world and around 50 in the USA.

There are three stages to the exam.  The first two take place at the end of the second year of study: theory and tasting.  Theory consists of five three hour papers, covering everything from viticulture to winemaking, quality control and the business of wine.  At the same time there are three tasting exams over three days, each featuring 12 wines to be tasted blind - 12 white, 12 red and 12 mixed (sparkling, dessert, fortified etc).  A typical question would be to identify the variety, region, quality level and price of the wine.

The final stage of the MW exams is the research paper, and this is what was approved last week.  I wrote mine about wine in seventeenth century poetry (if you are interested in reading, you can request a copy here).

When I got the results I was in Paris with friends and we had a wonderful day celebrating, culminating with dinner at La Tour d’Argent and its famous wine list.  A fitting place to be on such an occasion!

Two weeks of wine travel: Champagne

Earlier this month I spent a week in Champagne, visiting smaller, grower producers.  There’s a revolution going on in Champagne, with a movement away from wines blended across the whole region and subject to long, autolytic aging, and towards more and more precision: single variety, single village or even single vineyard wines, a little like the Burgundy model.  

And these wines are thrilling.  When tasting them you have to forget everything you thought you knew about champagne and instead taste them for what they tell you about their grape varieties or origins.  And suddenly the region and its wines become so much more fascinating, when you start to distinguish these subtle differences in taste and style.

Some of the producers I visited who are making stunning examples in this new world of champagne include: Marguet, Vilmart et Cie, AR Lenoble, Eric Rodez and Bérêche.  We also enjoyed outstanding wines from Deutz, Charles Heidsieck (both slightly larger houses making outstanding wines at present), Prévost, Tarlant, Agrapart, Selosse, Gimmonet and Suenen.

Two weeks of wine travel: Burgundy

Every day spent in Burgundy is a joy for me, and this quick trip was no different.  In Chablis we enjoyed a big tasting at La Chablisienne, the brilliant co-op in the town; and an outstanding tasting and lunch with Christian Moreau, whose 2017s are a joy but whose 2018s look profound already.

In the Côte d’Or, the 2017s were being bottled at Meo-Camuzet, but they still showed well, in particular the Nuits St Georges Boudots, Corton and Echezeaux.  Eve Faiveley showed us a range of her 2017s at Faiveley’s newly renovated facilities in Nuits St Georges.  What a transformation this domaine has undergone: the wines now show much greater finesse, purity and charm than in the previous generation - all to the good!

Finally, we had the pleasure of spending a morning with Amélie Berthaut (Gerbet), who is almost single-handedly transforming the reputation of the village of Fixin, north of Gevrey-Chambertin.  Her 2017s show Fixin as decidedly northern Côte de Nuits in style, but with a degree of precision and purity rarely seen this far north.  Do not miss these wines!

Dining

Please see my comprehensively updated dining and travel tips page on my website for all my latest thoughts on dining in Paris, Champagne and Burgundy.  But to highlight just one outstanding meal: Les Avisés in Champagne.  Les Avisés is the restaurant at Domaine Selosse in Avize, and part of the hotel of the same name.  

For many visitors, just having access to the Selosse wines at (very) reasonable prices is good enough reason to go.  But do not sleep on the food, which is top class.  The lunch menu is a bargain 49 euros, and changes daily.  There are no choices, but when food is this good, why wouldn’t you trust the chef?

The 10 Best Wines I Drank in February

This was a particularly decadent month - all of the following were enjoyed off wine lists in France with generous friends.

  • Comte Georges de Vogüé, Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 2002 - at its apogee now and drinking spectacularly.

  • Arnaud Ente, Puligny-Montrachet Les Referts 2011 - on the very few occasions I’ve had Ente, somehow it always manages to live up to the enormous hype.  This too was sublime.

  • Champagne Jacques Selosse Rosé NV - disgorged 2018.  An old friend, but how can you ever tire of this magic?

  • Mugneret-Gibourg Ruchottes-Chambertin 2010 - ethereal, airy, lacy, incredibly fine even now, but with years still to run.

  • Denis Mortet Gevrey Chambertin Lavaux St Jacques 2005 - I’m a bit hesitant to open ’05 Burgundy at present because some can still be closed.  But this is just unbelievably satisfying and true to type of this ‘wild corner’ of Gevrey-Chambertin.

  • Coche-Dury Meursault Les Caillerets 2011 - all the power and tension of this domaine, just beginning to flower.

  • JM Boillot, Pommard Les Rugiens 2002 - a domaine recognised for its whites rather than its reds, but this was just a spectacular, sweeping, floral display of Cote de Beaune glory at 17 years old.

  • René Engel, Vosne-Romanée Les Brûlées 2002 - a sentimental pick because my first Engel, and a wonderful if not great wine: quite gamey now on the nose, but a palate of infinite silkiness and gentle spice.

  • Champagne Suenen, Oiry, NV - Oiry is a more or less unknown village just outside the Côte des Blancs and Suenen may be the only producer bottling an example.  This has so much intense saline and chalky minerality it almost knocks you back.

  • Champagne Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Beguines NV - a hard to find 100% Meunier champagne from this tiny domaine.  This bottle alone makes you reassess the quality potential of this unloved variety.

January 2019

Bordeaux 2016

En route to Barbados for a few days’ sun (picture below), I stopped by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux 2016 tasting in Miami. The annual UGC tour is always a great opportunity not only to catch up with all the producers, but also to see how the latest bottled vintage is shaping up.

2016 is clearly an outstanding vintage in Bordeaux, particularly on the Left Bank (2015 is superior on the Right Bank). The Left Bank 2016s are glorious: perfumed, terroir expressive, precise and above all, showing their Cabernet Sauvignon class in their sheer aristocratic breed. Ultimately, whether you prefer the 2016s to the 2010s (the most recent comparable vintage) is a stylistic choice: the featherweight tannins of the 2016s are quite the contrast to the huge tannic charge of the 2010s.

While the first growths and some others were not available to taste, below are my picks of the most compelling 2016s from bottle. As for the whites: this is a good but not great vintage for the dry wines, and as usual, there are some excellent sweet whites. One final note: almost every producer said that their 2018 would be an even better wine than their 2016…watch this space!

Best 2016 Bordeaux from bottle: Pichon Lalande, Pichon Baron, Leoville Barton, Giscours, Rauzan Segla, Clerc Milon, Grand Puy Lacoste, Lynch Bages, Beychevelle, Haut Bailly, Brane Cantenac

And a mature Bordeaux vintage to drink now…

While you’re waiting for those delicious 2016s to come round, one vintage that is wonderful at present from both Left and Right Banks is the 2001.

A recent tasting showed that virtually all the 2001s - with the exception of the First Growths and Leoville Las Cases - are drinking beautifully today. These are classic Bordeaux wines, but with a little more fruit and flair than that term sometimes denotes. Crack a few open and see for yourself.

Dining notes: New York City

A favourite spot of the wine industry in Manhattan, but surprisingly little known outside it, is Vini e Fritti in the Flatiron District, on East 30th Street.

Part of the Danny Meyer Union Square Hospitality Group empire, Vini e Fritti serves Roman style fried snacks (fritti) and bucketloads of champagne, most of it from smaller, grower producers and priced extremely fairly. And if you’re still feeling hungry, you can walk down the corridor inside the Redbury hotel to Marta, for some of New York’s best pizza.

This month we enjoyed a bottle of excellent Chartogne-Taillet Chemin de Reims 2011 and a half bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée for a giveaway price. Great stuff!

And finally…

At the end of this month I had the pleasure of partnering with the Consorzio di Brunello di Montalcino to present the newly released 2014 vintage to the New York press and trade.

2014 was one of the most difficult vintages in decades in Montalcino, but nonetheless there were some lovely (if not profound) wines. For drinking now and over the next five years, seek out 2014 Brunello from: Musico, Belpoggio, Beatesca, La Magia, Le Chiuse, Col d’Orcia and Uccelliera.