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A Guide to the Wines of the Southern Rhône

Wine Enthusiast - December 13, 2018 - 1:00pm

From Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the wine of popes and kings, to the easy-drinking bottlings of Côtes du Rhône found in bistros worldwide, the hedonistic wines of the Southern Rhône are familiar friends. As a whole, they share a lusciousness of fruit, fiery spice and earth characteristics. The most dynamic generally hail from the region’s mighty crus.

A cru, which translates to “growth” in French, designates a legally demarcated region that’s recognized for its quality and distinctive terroir. Cru wines, labeled solely by their appellation, are the elite; they’re positioned above wider regional classifications like Côtes du Rhône or Côtes du Rhône Villages.

This designation proves both a reward and challenge to winegrowers. It imposes strict yield limits and mandates laborious quality measures like hand harvesting.

While Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the original cru of the Southern Rhône, advances in viticulture and winemaking have blurred the lines between the appellation and its lesser-known and less expensive neighbors.

Today, nine cru appellations span the region, each offering distinct wines that express the Southern Rhône’s varied terroirs. And with stunning vintages from 2015 through 2017 on store shelves, now is the perfect time to dive in and drink up.

Dusk falls over Châteauneuf-du-Pape / Photo by Mick Rock / Cephas Châteauneuf-du-Pape

With wines that showcase opulence juxtaposed to elegance, the deeply concentrated, beefy bottlings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are the undisputed royalty of the Rhône’s southern cru. Foreign demand for them is so great that about 80% of the region’s wines are exported, primarily to the U.S. and the UK.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape translates to “new home of the Pope.” It’s a moniker that dates to the early 14th century when Pope Clement V established a summer court in nearby Avignon.

By the 20th century, the region’s prominence suffered due to rampant wine fraud. Efforts by Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s winegrowers to designate borders and impose strict production rules led to the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system, which now governs the nation’s wines. Then, in 1936, Châteauneuf-du-Pape became one of the first wine AOCs.

Wine Styles: Red (93%), White (7%) Permitted Varieties: Red and White Wines—Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc, Noir and Gris), Mourvèdre, Muscardine, Picardan, Picpoul (Blanc, Noir and Gris), Roussanne, Syrah, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse Recommended Producers: Château de Beaucastel, Château Rayas, Domaine du Pégau, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe

The appellation is synonymous with its galets roulés, or rounded pebbles. Shaped by the flow of the Rhône river into flattened formations that range from the size of baseballs to basketballs, the stones lay atop subsoils of sand and clay throughout the region’s plateau. The formations store heat during the day, which warms the vineyard at night.

Lesser-known limestone, gravel and sand terrains contribute to the region’s unique expressions, too.

The art of blending is also central to the appellation’s identity. Grenache reigns supreme here, much as it does throughout the entire Southern Rhône. However, Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemakers are free to formulate distinct cuvées from any of the region’s 13 permitted grape varieties. As a result, its wines can vary significantly in composition.

What Do We Mean When We Say Rhône-style Wine?

For example, the red bottling of Château Rayas is 100% Grenache, while at Château de Beaucastel, Winemaker César Perrin describes his family’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge as “a symphony with each of the 13 grape varieties playing a valuable role.”

Some grapes, like Mourvèdre, serve as lead instruments, he says, while others, like Picardin, are more akin to subtle background notes.

“Each year, each member of our family makes their own blend, and then we decide which direction to go,” says Perrin. “Blending is key to the complexity of each vintage.”

Rosé from Tavel / Photo by Ian Shaw / Alamy Tavel

In Tavel, wine has always meant one thing: rosé. Long before it became the official beverage of Instagram and pool parties, French royalty and intellectuals swooned for the appellation’s bottlings.

Beloved by King Louis XIV, Balzac and Hemingway, Tavel wines are often shockingly pink, with hues that range from deep salmon to ruby. While rosé is often developed as a byproduct of red wine production, grapes here are cultivated exclusively for the style.

Tavel became the first French rosé appellation in 1937. It remains the only appellation in the Rhône exclusive to rosé.

Wine Styles: Rosé (100%) Permitted Varieties: Primarily Grenache (Blanc, Noir and Gris); accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Calitor Noir, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Mourvèdre, Picpoul (Blanc, Noir and Gris), Syrah Recommended Producers: Château d’Acqueria, Domaine des Carteresses, Domaine Maby, Les Vignerons de Tavel

The style here is always bone dry and distinguished from its paler Provençal cousins by deeper fruit concentration and earthy complexities. They’re invigorating yet solid wines suitable for enjoyment beyond summer, and can even benefit from cellar aging.

A wide variation in varietal blends and three distinct soil types within the appellation—galets roulés, sand and limestone—further enhance complexity in these wines.

A vineyard in Lirac / Photo by Mick Rock / Cephas Lirac

Across the Rhône River from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Lirac shares many of the same iconic galets roulés, sand and limestone soils.

“The terroir of Lirac is often hidden in the shadows of Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” says Laure Poisson, commercial director for Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac a cooperative of 55 family growers. But, in recent years, “Lirac has emerged from the shadows to become something different,” she says.

Wine Styles: Red (85%), White (10%), Rosé (5%) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Primarily Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Carignan, Clairette Rose, Counoise, Grenache Gris, Marsanne, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc, Viognier White Wine—Primarily Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne; accessory varieties include Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Rosé Wine—Primarily Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul, Roussanne, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Recommended Producers: Les Vignerons de Tavel & Lirac, Domaine Coudoulis, Domaine de la Mordorée, Domaine Lafond

Designated a cru appellation in 1947, Lirac is rare in that it is authorized for production of red, white and rosé wines. Much of Lirac’s production had been focused on easy-drinking rosé, though today, red wines make up 85% of its output.

While Grenache is central to Lirac’s distinct blackberry character, winemakers have increasingly tapped Syrah and Mourvèdre as central blending components. The cru’s best red wines are notable for their perfume, savoriness and complexity.

A vineyard in Gigondas / Alamy Gigondas

Characterized historically as a poor man’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas is an appellation often explained in comparison to its glossier cousin.

Like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas is defined by luscious fruit, generosity and spice. It’s typified, however, by a slimmer profile than the brawny wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as well as an intoxicating pungency of garrigue, the rustic base notes of underbrush and herb found throughout Provence and the South of France.

In 1971, Gigondas was the first of the Côtes du Rhône Villages appellations to be elevated to cru status. The wines offer remarkable affordability compared to ever-escalating prices for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

In recent decades, however, it’s become increasingly difficult to differentiate the best of Gigondas from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Wine Styles: Red (99%), Rosé (1%) Permitted Varieties: Red and Rosé Wines—Principal varieties include Grenache (Noir), Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Recommended Producers: Château de Saint Cosme, Domaine Santa Duc, Pierre Amadieu, Tardieu-Laurent

“Quality has improved a lot in the last 10 years,” says Bastien Tardieu, lead oenologist at family-operated négociant Tardieu-Laurent, which works with more than 100 growers throughout the Rhône Valley. He says that the advances can be attributed to cru appellations like Gigondas being held to “the same restrictive regulations [as Châteauneuf-du-Pape] to produce wine.”

Like most of the Southern Rhône crus, Grenache is the appellation’s backbone, augmented by Mourvèdre and Syrah. Small amounts of other traditional Rhône varieties are permitted in any blend, with the exception of Carignan.

A key factor that differentiates the cru is topography. Gigondas, along with neighboring Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise, sits along the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a ragged limestone formation that towers above the Southern Rhône. The outcrops of the Dentelles protect against the morning sun and extend the growing season. Its altitude allows for a wide day-night temperature range that maintains acidity and balance in the grapes.

“There’s an element of freshness here,” says Louis Barruol, owner of Château de Saint Cosme, a Gigondas estate that dates to the 15th century. “It’s not just from altitude or acidity, but a saltiness and minerality reminiscent of the sea.”

Vines in Rasteau / Photo by Mick Rock / Cephas Rasteau

Planted on predominantly south-facing slopes, Rasteau is characterized by profound ripeness and intensity. Grenache thrives in this arid, sun-drenched terrain, and a large proportion of 30–90 year-old vines continue to bear fruit year after year.

Long considered one of the best regions of the Côtes du Rhône Villages, the appellation obtained cru status in 2010.

“Rasteau is a powerful wine,” says Helen Durand, owner of Domaine du Trapadis, a small estate winery. “Power and freshness aren’t opposites here. Even if acidity is soft, there is freshness from minerality and finesse, particularly with age.”

Wine Styles: Red (100% in Rasteau AOC), Vin Doux Naturel (100% in Vin Doux Naturel Rasteau AOC) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Primarily Grenache (Noir), complemented by Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Vin Doux Naturel—Primarily Grenache (Blanc, Noir and Gris); accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Syrah, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Recommended Producers: Domaine de Verquière, Domaine du Trapadis, Domaine Fond Croze, Domaine La Soumade

The red wines of Rasteau are composed principally of Grenache, though they’re augmented by Syrah, Mourvèdre and a host of other minor blending partners.

The appellation is also revered for its vin doux naturel, which means naturally sweet wines. These expressive fortified wines are produced from Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris. Most unique are the region’s nutty, deliberately oxidative rancio-style, ambré and tuilé vins doux naturel.

Beaumes de Venise / Photo by Tim Moore / Alamy Beaumes de Venise

Located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, Beaumes de Venise is a particularly warm appellation sheltered from the Mistral, the famously frigid northerly winds of the Rhône.

Muscat thrives in the dry heat and arid soils here, and Beaumes de Venise is perhaps best known for its vin doux naturel. Unlike those of Rasteau, these are youthful, delicately fortified sweet wines made from the intensely floral, fruity grapes.

Wine Styles: Red (100% in Beaumes de Venise AOC), Vin Doux Naturel (100% in Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise AOC) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine— Primarily Grenache Noir, complemented by Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Vaccarese, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rosé), Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc Viognier Vin Doux Naturel—Muscat (Blanc and Rouge) Recommended Producers: Domaine de Coyeux, Domaine de Durban, Domaine des Bernardins, Domaine la Ligière

Despite limited distribution stateside, the 150 or so winegrowers of Beaumes de Venise actually produce more than three times as much red wine than vin doux naturel. Since 2005, its red wines have been designated to cru status as well. Both styles are priced well in relation to quality.

Grenache and Syrah, which dominate the red wines here, can be potent and haunting in perfume. Intensely fruity and ripe, they’re approachable in their youth, but the wines are also structured with firm tannins that reward cellaring.

Vacqueyras / Alamy Vacqueyras

If Gigondas is the diminutive cousin of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vaqueyras might be Gigondas’ little brother. Rusticity is often used to differentiate the appellation’s wines from those of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. Yet, in recent decades, Vacqueyras has made great strides through improved vineyard and cellar standards. Compared to its powerful contemporaries, it’s sleek, fresh and light on its feet.

Located at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, and adjacent to Gigondas, the vineyards of Vacqueyras are generally lower in elevation and warmer than their neighbors. While much of the cru is planted in what’s known as the garrigues, or flatlands covered with galets roulés, there are higher-elevation vines found on the region’s sandy slopes and stony terraces as well.

Profiles vary with terrain, but, overall, the wines of Vacqueyras combine approachable fruitiness with elegance, bright acidity and fine, persistent tannins.

Wine Styles:  Red (95%), White (4%), Rosé (1%) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Principally Grenache (Noir), complemented by Syrah, Mourvédre; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse, Viognier White Wine—Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache (Blanc), Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier Rosé Wine—Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah Recommended Producers: Château des Tours, Domaine Font Sarade, Domaine les Semelles du Vent, Montirius

“Compared to Gigondas, Vacqueyras has always been the more accessible and eager wine,” says Jean François Arnoux, the 13th-generation owner of Arnoux & Fils. “It offers more fruit, warmth and spice, and it doesn’t hurt that the price is typically 20% less.”

Appellation rules that govern yields, methods of harvest and winemaking are almost identical to Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Production is almost entirely red wines, which must be made from at least 50% Grenache and contain either Mourvèdre or Syrah, and can be enhanced by a host of other Rhône varieties.

Four Ways to Explore Wine Outside the Tasting Room

At Domaine Font Sarade, owner Bernard Burle and his daughter, Claire, make wines from both Vacqueyras and Gigondas.

“Particularly in cooler, northerly vineyards with western exposures, Vacqueyras is distinguished by its body, its balance and integration of alcohol,” says Bernard.

Cairanne / Alamy Cairanne

Elevated to cru status in 2016, Cairanne is one of the Rhône’s newest and most promising appellations. Compared to the powerhouse wines typical to the Southern Rhône, the Grenache-based blends here often exhibit a distinct finesse.

“Wines from Cairanne have elegance,” says Laurent Brusset, the winemaker and third-generation owner of Domaine Brusset.

Wine Styles: Red (96%), White (4%) Permitted Varieties: Red Wine—Primarily Grenache (Noir), complemented by Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Counoise Noir, Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse, Viognier White Wine—Primarily, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Viognier Recommended Producers: Domaine Brusset, Domaine Oratoire St Martin, Domaine Rabasse-Charavin, Domaine Alary

The region’s soils vary from clay and limestone to sand and pebbles.

This diversity of terroir is reflected in the wines. The reds can be fleshy and ripe, redolent of figs and wild strawberries, yet they are often well structured and offer spicy, savory undertones.

Cairanne is rarely overextracted or jammy. Instead, it offers typically soft and supple tannins. The permitted white grapes of the appellation “are often planted at higher altitudes, where cool night temperatures lend acidity and delicacy to the wines,” he says.

A bird’s eye view of vineyards in Vinsobres / Alamy Vinsobres

Located at the northern limits of the Southern Rhône, with hillside terraces at more than 1,600 feet above sea level, Vinsobres is one of the region’s coolest appellations. Comprising just 27 domains, which includes three cooperatives, it’s a small appellation that stretches across five miles of rolling hills.

“Vinsobres marks the beginning of the Alps,” says winemaker Mélina Monteillet, whose family winery, Domaine de Montine, crafts bottlings in Vinsobres and neighboring Grignan. “The vineyards here are always the last to be harvested. Calcareous soils and high altitude lend minerality and freshness.”

Wine Styles: Red (100%) Permitted Varieties: Primarily Grenache Noir, complemented by Mourvèdre, Syrah; accessory varieties include Bourboulenc, Carignan, Cinsault, Clairette (Blanche and Rose), Grenache (Blanc and Gris), Counoise, Marsanne, Muscardin, Picpoul (Blanc and Noir), Roussanne, Terret Noir, Ugni Blanc, Vaccarèse, Viognier Recommended Producers: Domaine Chaume-Arnaud, Domaine Constant-Duquesnoy, Domaine de Montine, Domaine Jaume

The red wines of Vinsobres, elevated to cru status in 2006, must be made up of 50% Grenache and include Syrah and/or Mourvèdre. Syrah grows well here, and it lends briskness and structure to the wine.

Wines from small domains can still be difficult to find in the U.S., but regional producers like Famille Perrin or Pierre Amadieu produce fine Vinsobres bottlings that have wider distribution.

Splurge-Worthy Napa Cabs for Under $100

Wine Enthusiast - December 13, 2018 - 8:45am

Finding the right bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is tough for anyone who wants to stay within a modest budget. The prices can seem out of reach to anybody who isn’t a vested entrepreneur. Part of the reason for that reality is the cost of the region’s grapes is notoriously high: $7,421/ton on average just last year, as opposed to $2,209/ton in Mendocino County.

Labor and other production costs have to be factored in as well. And, ultimately, there’s the undeniable fact of scarcity. At 30 miles long and only a few miles across, the Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) isn’t all that big and only accounts for a wee 4% of all California wine.

But it is possible to defy the odds and find great, quality bottles for a more modest price. Here are 10 wines, $85 and below, perfect for gifting and enjoying over the holidays. They reflect an enviable span of tremendously good vintages, starting in 2012.

A Guide to the Best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Recommended Napa Cabs to Splurge On

Trefethen 2015 Family Owned Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon (Oak Knoll District); $60, 95 points. Blended with small amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot, this is an impressive wine well worthy of the producer’s 50th anniversary. Currant, boysenberry and light handfuls of spice are wrapped in soft, polished tannins that offer an elegant length. Editors’ Choice.

Inglenook 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford); $78, 95 points. This bottling reflects the past several years’ fine-tuning the winery’s vision in the vineyard and in the cellar. Including small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Malbec, it’s a rounded, concentrated wine that expresses the vintage with ripe, grippy tannins that beg for further resolution. Blackberry, clove and leather flavors rise to the fore. Cellar through 2035. Cellar Selection.

Turnbull 2015 Estate Grown Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $85, 95 points. This is a grainy, herbal red wine, boldly tannic and softly smooth in texture. It takes on mountain airs of sage, clove and tobacco, with a brushy graininess that adds complexity and intrigue. Blackberry, black cherry and currant give a tart fruitiness to the flavor.

Spring Mountain Vineyard 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $75, 94 points. From the producer’s high-elevation, 225-acre site on Spring Mountain, this is mineral in crushed rock and sanguine characteristics, with a hit of graphite and black licorice. The fruit is subtle, a mix of black currant and plum wrapped in contrasting notes of cedar and mocha. Medium-bodied, it shows structure and elegance. Editors’ Choice.

Bella Union 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $80, 94 points. Fermented in stainless steel, then aged 16 months in French oak (60% new), this wine is brightly aromatic in tones of cherry, cassis and spicy clove. Supple and integrated on the palate, it has depth at its core, with an intense ripe berry flavor.

Lail 2015 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $80, 94 points. Made by Philippe Melka, this wine sources fruit from across the valley, adding in 7% Petit Verdot. Structured, chalky tannins settle into a soft, billowy entry of cassis, clove and quiet oak. Dried herb and additional baking spices touch up the lengthy finish. Editors’ Choice.

Axr 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $84, 94 points. Tart in red and black currant, this wine offers explosive acidity and fleshy polished tannins, the core densely structured and full-bodied. Given nearly two years in French oak, 75% of it new, it is accented in woody, herbal layers of dust and earth. Enjoy 2024–2030. Cellar Selection.

Heitz 2012 Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $85, 94 points. From a certified-organic vineyard in Rutherford, this is a 100% varietal wine that impresses from start to finish, allowing room for a slight whiff of reduction and tar on the nose. Dark notions of coffee are interwoven between bright layers of cassis and red cherry around structured acidity and oak. Enjoy 2020–2028. Cellar Selection.

Paradigm 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $84, 94 points. Smooth, youthful and concentrated, this wine offers earthy graphite and tobacco around a midpalate of well-developed, lively acidity and fresh black fruit. Tenacious in oak and tannin, it needs time to develop further; enjoy 2024–2029. Cellar Selection.

Spottswoode 2015 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $85, 94 points. This remains one of the most impressive wines at its price point—a varietal wine blended with small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, from both the producer’s estate and other pedigreed sites. Tense acidity buoys a brawny tannic profile that settles into lushness texture, highlighted in black fruit, butter, gunpowder and plum. Editors’ Choice.

Mouton Rothschild reveals 2016 label by William Kentridge

Decanter Magazine - December 13, 2018 - 4:43am

Château Mouton Rothschild has commissioned South African artist William Kentridge to design the label for its 2016 vintage grand vin. See the design in full below.

William Kentridge's 'The Triumphs of Bacchus' for the Mouton 2016 label.

Kentridge has created an artwork named ‘The Triumphs of Bacchus’ and involving a series of silhouettes for the Mouton Rothschild 2016 label.

The Pauillac estate has commissioned an artist to design every grand vin vintage label since 1945, having first started the concept in 1924.

Mouton said that Kentridge, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1955, was ‘the first world-famous artist from the African continent to illustrate a Mouton label’.

Kentridge’s label design shows a variety of silhouettes of Bacchus in what the first growth Château described as a joyful procession.

The work was inspired by Bacchic characters from the paintings of great artists, from Titian to Matisse, Mouton said.

The label in full

The Mouton 2016 label in full. Credits: Mouton Rothschild / William Kentridge.

One of the art forms most closely associated with Kentridge is the creation of animated film using charcoal drawings or black-card cut-outs, Mouton said.

Kentridge has also become well-known for a variety of art forms, including sculpture and theatre.

There has been a political edge to several of his works.

Kentridge recently exhibited his ‘The Head and the Load’ artwork at the Tate Modern in London. Involving film projections, mechanised sculptures and music, the artwork told the story of African porters and carriers who served European powers in the First World War.

This year’s wine label follows the design by German artist Gerhard Richter for the Mouton 2015 vintage.


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Jane Anson’s top fine wines of 2018

Decanter Magazine - December 13, 2018 - 3:05am

See the wines that have made Jane Anson's end-of-year highlights, with exclusive tasting notes for Decanter Premium members...

Lafite Rothschild poured at the Decanter Shanghai Fine Wine EncounterScroll down to see Jane Anson’s top fine wines of 2018

Introduction by Decanter.com staff

Jane Anson has had the slightly enviable task of tasting hundreds of good wines for Decanter in 2018, for articles in the print magazine and on Decanter Premium.

This has covered vertical tastings of some of Bordeaux’s top estates – a certain 150-year Lafite anniversary sticks in our minds – plus a recent trip to California and Oregon.

So, we thought it be interesting to ask our Bordeaux-based contributing editor to pick her top 10 fine wines tasted in 2018.

There are naturally several Bordeaux greats in the following list, as you’d expect from our chief critic for this region, but you’ll also find top wines from California, Rioja, Oregon and New Zealand.

As well as tasting and writing regular articles for Decanter as a contributing editor, Anson is currently writing a comprehensive book on her specialist region, to be titled ‘Inside Bordeaux’. 

Jane Anson’s top fine wines of 2018


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White wine for Christmas under £15

Decanter Magazine - December 13, 2018 - 1:00am

Whether you are buying wine as a gift or stocking up for the party season ahead, Decanter's tasting team have found some of the best white wine for Christmas under £15 a bottle...

You don’t need to break the bank to try something new and exciting this festive season. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or stocking up for the big day or New Year, these bargain Christmas white wines get the thumbs up from our tasting team.

Successful winter whites can, generally, be split into two categories:

  • Those which are rounded with some fat on them, ideal for matching the richness of the seasonal cuisine
  • Those that are crisp enough to cut through foods such as smoked salmon, goose and cheese.

If you want to experience both styles, try pairing a crisp white – such as the Pieropan Soave below – with a smoked salmon starter, before moving on to a fuller white for the main course with all the trimmings.

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8 & $20 Recipe: Cod en Papillote with a Zesty White (Wine Spectator)

Wine Spectator Headlines - December 12, 2018 - 11:00am

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

Cooking is often about the total transformation of ingredients. But it’s refreshing to showcase the natural essence of a few components, especially those with delicate flavors, like the cod and zucchini in this recipe.

The key to making simple dishes delicious is seasoning at each stage. For these parchment paper–wrapped packets, you’ll salt and pepper in between layers, building flavor into each bite. The carrot and zucchini add sweetness, but you can swap in pretty much any vegetable that can be cut into thin strips, as well as your favorite herb (or herbs) in place of rosemary.

The parchment-paper packets act as individual steamers in the oven, melding all the flavors as they roast together. The cooking liquids create a juicy filet and a savory-sweet, citrusy sauce that drips down to the vegetables, infusing them with flavor. Once you pull the packets from the oven, you have a fully composed dish. Unlike most “set it and forget it” dishes, it’s ready in less than 30 minutes.

Just as the lemon, capers and tomatoes add juicy acidity that complements the cod, a bright, zesty white like a Sauvignon Blanc will balance all the flavors well. I went with one from a producer based in the Loire Valley, the Saget La Perrière Sauvignon Blanc Vin de France La Petite Perrière 2017; its herbaceous character brought out the rosemary element in the dish, while its citrus notes enhanced the lemon.

So grab a bottle—or a few—because this dish works as both a last-minute weeknight meal or a showstopper at your next dinner party. Serve the packets as is, and let guests unwrap the surprise!

Cod en Papillote

Pair with a bright, acidic white such as Saget La Perrière Sauvignon Blanc Vin de France La Petite Perrière 2017 (87 points, $13).

Prep time: 12 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 27 minutes
Approximate food costs: $25

  • 1 zucchini, julienned into 1/8-inch strips
  • 1 large carrot, julienned into 1/4-inch strips
  • 16 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 4 cod filets, 1/4 pound each
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons capers
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • 4 sprigs rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut four 1-foot-by-1-foot pieces of parchment paper.

2. For each piece of parchment paper: Add about 5 zucchini strips, 5 carrot strips and 8 tomato halves. Season with salt and pepper, and place a piece of cod on top. Season cod with salt and pepper, top with 3 lemon slices and 1 teaspoon of capers. Sprinkle with olive oil and white wine, and place a rosemary sprig on top.

3. Fold opposite sides of the parchment paper so they cover the fish, then make several small, tight folds on the two other sides to seal up the packets. Place packets on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 12 minutes, or 14 minutes for slightly larger filets. When done, the fish should easily flake with a fork.

4. Transfer each packet to a plate and open carefully, being cautious of the hot steam. Serves 4.

The Wines of Christmas Past, Present and Future

Wine Enthusiast - December 12, 2018 - 9:30am

From the Muppets to the Smurfs, George C. Scott to Bill Murray, with well over 100 adaptations on stage and screen alone, Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” may be the most widely adapted holiday tale of all time. Everyone knows the story by now, in which a miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve to show him the error of his curmudgeonly ways and the perils of a life lived in regret.

With 2018 quickly drawing to a close, we began to think about our own wines of past, present and future. Though our tasters, and annual vintage guide, go to great lengths to help you discover a wine’s prime drinking window, they can often get lost in the avalanche of the thousands of wines we review annually, or forgotten about in home cellars. So we’ve broken down selections to look for, from older vintages that are perfect to pop open now, to young wines that should be enjoyed in the present, as well as a selection of bottles perfect to begin cellaring now in order to make your future Christmases bright.

The wines of Christmas past / Getty Wines of Christmas Past

If there’s one quality that applies to wine more than any other alcoholic beverage, it is its potential to age. But when is the right time to open a wine? We’ve gone through our Buying Guide to compile a list of past vintages which are just now hitting their peak drinking window.

Tenuta San Guido 2010 Sassicaia (Bolgheri Sassicaia); $227, 97 points. This supremely elegant and age-worthy Sassicaia opens with an intense bouquet of black cherry, Mediterranean herbs, blue flower, cedar and leather aromas. Powerful but graceful, the palate delivers a vibrant core of black cherry accented with white pepper, mineral and balsamic notes alongside youthful but polished tannins and vibrant acidity. It’s not as exuberant as some of its counterparts, but it may outlive all the other Bolgheri 2010s. Drink 2018–2040. Kobrand. Cellar Selection. –Kerin O’Keefe

Emmerich Knoll 2013 Ried Loibenberg Riesling Smaragd (Wachau); $54, 96 points. This is so young, the yeast of the ferment still swings on the nose. Underneath that, tightly curled freshness suggests both candied lemon slices and lemon sorbet—but this needs time to unfurl its glory. Despite its slenderness, this wine has muscle and tone, structure and poise. The long finish is lip-smacking and moreish. Drink 2018–2025. Circo Vino. Cellar Selection. –Anne Krebiehl MW

Mvemve Raats 2011 MR de Compostella Red (Stellenbosch); $65, 94 points. This world-class blend of 52% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot is concentrated, structured and powerful, with the promise of a long life ahead. Earthy, herbal streaks of cigar box, licorice root, char and minty fynbos frame the lush fruit core of muddled boysenberry, black raspberry, plum and currant. The palate is bold and assertively flavored, with good evolution from jammy black fruit to earthy spice and finally leather and toast on the finish. Drink 2018–2024. Cape Classics. Cellar Selection. –Lauren Buzzeo

Eight Crazy Nights of Wine for Hanukkah

Matarromera 2011 Gran Reserva (Ribera del Duero); $125, 94 points. This is a deep, layered, tannic Tempranillo from an intense vintage. Its blackberry, black plum and cedar aromas are broad and lush. Chocolaty oak flavors enwrap its ripe blackberry fruit, remaining rich and long on the finish. Drink 2018–2026. USA Wine West. Cellar Selection. –Michael Schachner

Jada Vineyard & Winery 2013 Passing By Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles Willow Creek District); $60, 93 points. This expertly structured wine will last for ages. It begins with dense blackberry jam, caramel, vanilla, fresh licorice and chocolate-ganache aromas. There is a density of flavors on the sip, but not an overwhelming weight, with black cherry, chocolate syrup and asphalt tones hung on chalky tannins that are a little firm right now. Drink 2018–2033. Cellar Selection. –Matt Kettmann

Les Belles Collines 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $65, 93 points. Given slightly less new oak (60%) than the producer’s Les Sommets bottling, this is an equally rewarding wine, blended with 12% Merlot. Red fruit dominates atop a soft grip of leather, pencil lead and cedar. The considerable density of the tannins and overall firm texture suggest this will benefit from further aging; drink 2018–2022. Cellar Selection. –Virginie Boone

Bryn Mawr Vineyards 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir (Eola-Amity Hills); $60, 92 points. Combine the two block selections and you come close to this reserve. There’s good intensity to the black-cherry fruit, and a base of minerality that gives it a mouthfeel as if it had been carved directly out of rock. Tight and ageworthy. Drink 2018–2026. Cellar Selection. –Paul Gregutt

Grey’s Peak 2015 Pinot Noir (Waipara Valley); $40, 90 points. Intriguing aromas of earth, raw meat, cola, menthol and dark cherry lead into a surprisingly powerful palate of prominent but well integrated tannins, broody dark fruit, and herbaceous flavors. This Pinot should be fascinating to try after a few years in the cellar. Drink 2018–2024. American Estates Wines, Inc. –Christina Pickard

The wines of Christmas present / Getty Wines of Christmas Present

If the holidays (and the ending to Dickens’s classic) teach us one thing, it’s never to forget to live in the moment. These wines are all meant to be consumed young and fresh, not to be hoarded like Scrooge did his money. Guaranteed to please the loved ones in your life, these bottles are best opened now.

Krug NV 21ème Edition Rosé Brut (Champagne); $299, 96 points. This wine has richness, maturity and intensity. It offers so many complexities and layers of flavor that come together in a red-fruit-flavored, lightly toasty wine that has freshness as well as some age. Drink now. Moët Hennessy USA. –R.V.

Bründlmayer NV Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Reserve (Österreichischer Sekt); $60, 94 points. A rich tone of baked apple fills both nose and palate. Yeasty development is expressed as buttery patisserie notes, while lemony brightness lends a fresh, vivid aspect. The fizz is fine and very creamy. This is rich in its slenderness, opulent in stone fruit and flavor and yet ultrafresh. The long finish brims with ripe lemon. Drink now–2025. Terry Theise Estate Selections. –A.K.

Jim Barry 2013 The Armagh Shiraz (Clare Valley); $300, 94 points. The 2013 vintage was a warm year with a short harvest, and so the Jim Barry’s top red wine is more than ready to drink now. While it may not have as long a cellaring life as some of its predecessors, it’s still a beautiful a wine. It starts with aromas of dried flowers, Dr. Pepper, raisiny plums, raw meat, milk chocolate and spices like cumin, star anise and white pepper. The palate is still showing relatively juicy, primary fruit that’s sewn together with ultrafine, powdery tannins and an earthy spine. This is powerful yet finessed. Loosen Bros. USA.  Editors’ Choice. –C.P.

Celebrate the Birthday of “Silent Night” with Austrian Wine

Borgo del Tiglio 2016 Studio di Bianco (Collio); $80, 93 points. A blend of 40% Friulano, 40% Sauvignon and 20% Riesling, this structured white opens with aromas of toast, crushed stone, grilled herb and a whiff of yellow stone fruit. It’s full bodied, delivering baked apple, dried apricot, citrus zest, vanilla and butterscotch flavors. A hint of toasted almond and a savory, almost salty mineral note linger on the finish. Drink now or hold for even more complexity. Grand Cru Selections. –K.O.

Quady North 2014 Steelhead Run Vineyard Syrah (Applegate Valley); $32, 92 points. This soft Syrah opens with lush flavors of blueberry and ripe cherry. Some lightly liquorous barrel flavors add toast and walnuts into a long and sensuous finish. Drink now. –P.G.

Sutcliffe 2015 Cinsault (Colorado); $24, 91 points. Engaging aromas of forest berries and wild herbs are touched by savory white pepper and blue flowers on the nose of this light red. On the palate, delightful flavors of ripe red cherry, cranberry, granite and crushed thyme are supported by barely perceptible tannins and a peppery spice. There is a charming vein of acidity right from the start that weaves all the way through the wild black raspberry and white pepper-inflected finish. Drink now–2025. Editors’ Choice. –Fiona Adams

Mas des Bressades 2017 Cuvée Tradition Rosé (Costières de Nîmes); $14, 90 points. Initial whiffs of smoke and earth blow off to reveal bright red plum and bramble aromas here. Dry and refreshingly tart, it offers crisp raspberry and strawberry flavors nuanced by hints of garrigue and crushed stone. Drink now. Robert Kacher Selections. Best Buy. –Anna Lee C. Iijima

Substance 2016 Cs Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $15, 90 points. The aromas are compelling, with notes of fresh herb, black currant, black raspberry and black cherry, showing a pleasing sense of purity. The flavors are soft and pure, with sleek black-fruit notes lingering on the finish. Firm tannins back it up. It’s a fruitful expression of the variety and a superb value. Drink now. Best Buy. –Sean P. Sullivan

Bodegas Muriel 2017 Pazo Cilleiro Albariño (Rías Baixas); $20, 90 points.  Nectarine and tangerine aromas are bright and clean. On the palate, this is plump yet balanced by a zip of acidity. Orange, nectarine and honey flavors finish with length and a sense of healthy ripeness. Drink now. Quintessential Wines. —M.S.

Spier 2017 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch); $9 89 points. Medium-intense notes of fresh orange, firm mango, green melon and ripe gooseberry form the bouquet of this easy-to-like wine. The palate is well balanced, with ample acidity that highlights the crisp tropical and citrus fruits. Hints of lemon and lime peel lend a pithy accent to the finish. Enjoy it for its freshness now. Saranty Imports. Best Buy. –L.B.

The wines of Christmas future / Getty Wines of Christmas Future

While you enjoy aged older vintages and fresh young wines, find some time to lay down bottles for future generations. Many of these bottlings will last decades into the future, ensuring friends and loved ones will be drinking well for holidays to come.

Sattlerhof 2013 Trockenbeerenauslese Sauvignon Blanc TBA (Südsteiermark); $65, 100 points. The allure of caramel and smoke hits first, after which a cloud of the purest apricot essence reaches the senses. The viscous palate tingles with disarmingly sharp acidity, balanced by incredibly luscious sweetness. Layer upon layer of apricot, passion fruit and candied lemon unleashes itself in this clean, precise TBA. It offers marvel concentration and purity. Drink until 2040. Craft + Estate–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection. –A.K.

Pol Roger 2008 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Brut (Champagne); $293, 100 points. One of the great Champagnes both for its richness and its longevity, this latest incarnation is superb. The wine’s richness is linked to the ripe fruit and the dominance of Pinot Noir in the blend. It also shines in the perfect balance between the texture, the minerality and the integration of the fruit. It can be enjoyed now, but it will be better from 2020 and then for many years to come. Frederick Wildman & Sons, Ltd. Cellar Selection. –R.V.

FEL 2015 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley); $70, 97 points. Sleek, vivid and sophisticated, this wine wows with fresh, concentrated tones. There’s a sense of taut balance between acidity and ripeness, with a laser focus of raspberry, cherry and strawberry flavors that extend the finish for minutes. This great wine from a celebrated vineyard is an excellent choice for the cellar, best enjoyed after 2023. Cellar Selection. –Jim Gordon

Proprietà Sperino 2012 Lessona; $75, 96 points. Structured, vibrant and boasting extreme elegance, this radiant Nebbiolo opens with enticing scents of iris, violet and crushed aromatic herb. The chiseled palate has wonderful intensity and precision, delivering red cherry, raspberry compote, star anise and Lessona’s classic salty finish. It’s still young and nervous but impeccably balanced, with taut, refined tannins and firm acidity. Give it time to unwind and fully develop. Drink 2023–2043. Petit Pois. Cellar Selection. –K.O.

Get into the Holiday Spirit with Boozy Advent Calendars

Quilceda Creek 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $200, 96 points. This hails from Champoux, Lake Wallula, Palengat and Wallula Gap Vineyards. The aromas draw you into the glass, evoking anise, blackberry, black raspberry, graphite and exotic spices. The flavors show intense depth, richness and hedonism, and the finish seems endless. Best from 2029–2036. Cellar Selection. –S.S.

Rudolf Fürst 2015 Hundsrück GG Spätburgunder (Franken); $200, 96 points. Ripe but restrained black-cherry and berry aromas are accented by complexities of violet, lavender and herbs on the nose of this boldly structured Spätburgunder. It’s an opulent wine boasting fleshy layers of black plum and mulberry peppered with spice and dense, mouthcoating tannins. Hold till 2025 to allow this lavish wine to meld but enjoy for years to come. Rudi Wiest Selections. Cellar Selection. –A.I.

Foxen 2016 Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley); $64, 94 points. This block-designated wine is intense in hearty aromas of black raspberry, dried mint and loamy earth. Spiced cake and sharp purple-flower flavors arise on the palate, but it’s the dark, penetrating and focused boysenberry and dark-fruit flavors that command attention. Drink 2019–2036. Cellar Selection. –M.K.

Finca Allende 2015 Gaminde Single Vineyard Estate Bottled (Rioja); $75, 94 points. This wine’s blueberry and cassis aromas are accented by wet clay notes. Its saturated palate is so dense it requires a drill to get through in this youthful stage. Offering deep blackberry and dark chocolate flavors, it finishes with melting tannins and a lasting note of burnt wood. Drink through 2035. New Age Imports. Cellar Selection. –M.S.

Trisaetum 2017 Estates Reserve Riesling (Willamette Valley); $42, 93 points. This young wine has all the components for long-term ageability, though they are still melding together. Dense tree-fruit flavors, apple cider and almost syrupy peach are all evident, with a dusting of powdered sugar. What keeps it lively and fresh is the appealing acidity. Drink 2020–2030. Cellar Selection. –P.G.

Yalumba 2012 The Tri-Centenary Grenache (Barossa); $56, 92 points. From the oldest plot of the Tri-Centenary vineyards (1889), of which just 820 vines remain, this Grenache is an inky-hued, dense version of the variety, swimming with plush, almost raisiny blackberry fruit, cola, dusting polish, mocha and spice. The full-bodied palate offers more rich, dark fruit and tight-grained, dusty tannins. This is a classy drop and should age beautifully through 2028. Negociants USA–The Winebow Group. Cellar Selection. –C.P.

Masciarelli 2015 Marina Cvetic Riserva (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo); $30, 91 points. Sourced from the winery’s San Martino estate in Chieti, this wine is inviting in aromas of clove, tobacco and dill that waft over a dense core of red-skinned berries. The palate displays rich red-fruit tones underscored by oak spice, with fine-grained tannins and structured acidity delivering support and length. Give it time in the cellar to fully integrate; drink 2020–2025. Vintus LLC. Cellar Selection. –Alexander Peartree

Best Christmas Champagne: vintage and non-vintage bottles to buy

Decanter Magazine - December 12, 2018 - 5:31am

Yohan Castaing picks out a range of Champagnes for Christmas, ranging from money-no-object Champagnes to good quality non-vintage choices...

Champagne often plays a leading role at Christmas, so below are some top examples that reflect current drinking trends.


function trackVivino(wineId, initialAction) { if (window.ipc && window.ipc.utils) { const category = 'Premium'; const action = 'Vivino Buy '+initialAction; var label = wineId+ ' ~ Collection ~ '+initialAction; window.ipc.utils.trackEvent(category, action, label); } }

You might also like: Producer profile: Dom Pérignon Champagne to look for under £40: Panel tasting results

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Yealands Estate fined NZ$400,000 for breaching wine rules

Decanter Magazine - December 12, 2018 - 4:15am

Major New Zealand producer Yealands Estate and its ex-owner have been fined after pleading guilty to previously breaking the rules on wine destined for the European Union.

Yealands Estate vines in Awatere Valley. In brief
  • NZ$400,000 fine relates to wine destined for EU between 2012 and 2015
  • Court hands out additional fines to ex-owner Peter Yealands and two former, senior staff
  • Company’s new management says it ‘cooperated fully’ with probe and no affected wine sold under Yealands brand name
Full story

In what New Zealand government officials described as an unprecedented case, Yealands Estate Wines Ltd was fined NZ$400,000 by Blenheim District Court this week.

The firm admitted to breaching New Zealand’s 2003 Wine Act.

Previous management failed to declare that some wine intended for export to the European Union had been sweetened with sugar after fermentation – contrary to EU wine rules – said New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), which brought the prosecution.

That amounted to ‘deliberate deception’, said Gary Orr, the MPI’s manager of compliance investigations.

‘The records relate to more than 6.5 million litres of wine, and around 3.7 million litres of affected wine were exported to Europe between May 2013 and December 2015,’ Orr said, following a two-year investigation.

‘These are the first convictions for offending under the provisions of the Wine Act in New Zealand,’ he added.

Judge Bill Hastings also imposed fines on three individuals involved, all of whom pleaded guilty:

  • Peter Yealands, ex-owner, was fined $30,000;
  • Jeff Fyfe, ex-general manager for winery operations was fined $35,000;
  • Tamra Kelly, ex-chief winemaker was fined $35,000.

Yealands said that none of the affected wine was sold under its own brand name.

The company has since come under new ownership in the form of electricity firm Marlborough Lines, which bought an 80% stake in Yealands in 2015 and acquired the rest of the wine group earlier this year.

Yealands said that  it ‘cooperated fully with the MPI investigation as soon as the errors were brought to [our] attention in early 2016’.

Adrian Garforth, the current Yealands CEO, said, ‘Systems we have introduced, training and comprehensive audits mean that our wines are fully compliant, and breaches of this kind will not happen again.

‘These events, which predate my appointment, do not reflect our company values and our desire to do everything to the highest possible standard.’

The post Yealands Estate fined NZ$400,000 for breaching wine rules appeared first on Decanter.

Serving wine at Christmas – dilemmas solved

Decanter Magazine - December 12, 2018 - 3:35am

What kind of sparkling should you choose for your party – and where from? Should you let the wine breathe on Christmas day? When should you start chilling it? And what to do with any leftovers? We’ve got your questions answered with our wine at Christmas guide…

Wine at Christmas guide – dilemmas solved

Click on the links below to read the full articles.

See also: Wines to pair with turkey at Christmas How do I chill wine in a hurry?

Credit: Decanter/ Ellie Douglas

The neighbours are coming round for a last minute festive drink, but there’s nothing cool in the fridge. What to do? Xavier Rousset MS suggests a bucket of icy water with a bit of salt – and make sure the bottle is submerged.

Should you put wine in the freezer?

There’s nothing wrong with that – and wrapping in a wet cloth will speed it up. Just make sure you don’t forget about it!

How to get the serving temperatures right on Christmas day

Let us help you to chill this Christmas. Credit: Sergiy Tryapitsyn / Alamy.

Should you put ice cubes in wine?

Although you’re free to enjoy wine how you’d like, the problem with ice cubes in wine is that as it melts, it dilutes the wine. Try keeping some grapes in the freezer and popping those in your glass instead.

How long should I chill my Champagne for?

When chilling Champagne for Christmas day, it’s worth remembering that your fridge is probably stocked full with food. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get the bottle in there the night before, says Decanter tastings director Christelle Guibert.

Does putting a spoon in my sparkling wine keep it sparkling?

There’s no real evidence to support this idea  – really it’s just another wine myth. Get yourself a Champagne stopper if you think there’ll be leftovers.

What should you do if your wine cork breaks or crumbles?

What should you do if your wine cork breaks? Credit: Cath Lowe/ Decanter

We’ve all been there – the cork crumbles into a special bottle you’ve been saving up. You can filter it out, but be sure to consider things like how old it is, and how soon you’ll be drinking it, say our experts.

Should you decant your white wines?

Steven Spurrier personally decants white Rhônes and aged Alsace Rieslings. But remember, if you do decant a white wine, don’t give it a chance to warm up.

Should I let my wine ‘breathe’?

Just taking the cork out early won’t do anything. Either decant fully if it’s needed, or open when it’s time to drink it.

When should you double decant a wine?

Double decanting wines at the Bordeaux Fine Wine Encounter 2017.

It’s often done for some of our masterclass wines at Decanter Fine Wine Encounters, but not all wines benefit from double decanting – particularly fragrant and lightly structured ones.


Follow the Decanter guide to getting it right on Christmas day, from Champagne through to sweet wines.

And after the festivities… How long can I keep wine open?

It will last longer than you probably think it will – most still wines can last between three to five days.

See Christmas wine suggestions and food pairing advice

Article updated in December 2018.

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Christmas Champagne deals

Decanter Magazine - December 12, 2018 - 3:00am

We've sourced some top Champagne deals this Christmas...

Keith Jackson / Alamy

Christmas is a great excuse to drink Champagne, and it’s also the time of year wine merchants and supermarkets come out with some of their best Champagne deals.

Top Champagne deals UK:

Lanson NV

Tesco have knocked £10 off a bottle, now just £22. It’s a Champagne known for its sharp, citrussy bite that’s ideal with canapes, fish and creamy dishes.

Go to deal

Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut NV

Sainsbury’s is listing this popular Champagne for £28.

Go to deal

Delacourt range of Champagnes

Marks & Spencer are offering 25% off when you buy 24 or more bottles of wine or Champagne, making these look good value at just £22.50.

Go to deal

Laurent-Perrier Brut NV

Waitrose is currently offering 33% off this very reliable fizz that’s a good all-rounder.

Go to deal

Veuve Clicquot 2008

Majestic is selling Veuve’s rich vintage Champagne for £49.99, on its ‘mix 6’ offer.

Go to deal

Canard-Duchêne Brut NV

Meanwhile, you can pick up this great value Champagne at Oddbins for just £21.

Go to deal

Gosset Grand Réserve Brut NV

The Wine Society have reduced Gosset’s NV to £32, when you buy six bottles.

Go to deal

Pol Roger range

Berry Brothers & Rudd have great deals on this fantastic house  until 31 December, although stock is limited. Our pick is the rich but fresh Pol Roger 2009 for £51.75.

Go to deal


Dom Perignon 2009

Total Wine have reduced this extravagant fizz to $137.97 for Christmas.

Go to deal

Taittinger Brut NV

Grand Vin Wine Merchants have Taittinger’s fresh, citrussy non-vintage on sale at $25.99, or $24.99 if you buy 12.

Go to deal

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV

This highly-rated Champagne is available at K&L for just $44.99

Go to deal

Scroll down for more Christmas Champagne deals See also: Decanter.com Christmas wine gift guide Top whisky deals Cheese and wine matching: the ultimate guide Laurent-Perrier Rosé Champagne NV


A solid rosé Champagne and one of the best-known, available for an unusually low price. A great way of announcing your arrival at a Christmas party or enjoying date night, but with the added bonus of not rinsing your bank account.

£44.90 – Buy Now

Pol Roger Champagne NV

One of the best NV Champagnes out there and famed for their Winston Churchill Cuvee, which, unfortunately, you won’t find discounted.

£32.95 – £8.00 off – Buy Now 

Taittinger Champagne NV

A Taittinger deal in the US is listed above, but if you’re in the UK, here’s a great deal too. It will happily improve for 18 months on its side, dependent on the disgorgement date.

£26.25 – £12.25 off – Buy Now

Lanson Rosé NV

One of the best value rosés out there at this price, we would happily buy them this year for next – especially with Lanson’s fresh styles of Champagne.

£27.00 – £10.00 off – Buy now

Louis Roederer, Brut Premier NV

With ‘a zesty lemon and fresh apple character, with a steely mineral note and some wood and cream in the background‘, according to our taster, this is a great price  for a Champagne that will always be greeted well over the Christmas period.

£31.50 – £8 off – Buy now

Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé Champagne

£36 – £9 off – Buy now


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Red wine for Christmas under £15

Decanter Magazine - December 12, 2018 - 2:00am

Whether you are buying wine as a gift or stocking up for the party season ahead, Decanter's tasting team has found some of the best red wine for Christmas under £15 a bottle...


You don’t need to break the bank to try something new and exciting this festive season.

Whether you’re looking for a gift, or stocking up for Christmas day, Christmas parties or New Year, these wines get the thumbs up from our tasting team.


Red wine for Christmas under £15:

Wines updated December 2018.

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Your Guide to Sustainable Wine Certifications

Wine Enthusiast - December 11, 2018 - 1:41pm

How can wine be “green”? It’s not as straightforward as you might think. Symbols and letters on the back of wine labels indicate some kind of commitment to the environment, but to what extent? While the benefits of cultivating and producing wine in a responsible manner can aid the environment and ecosystem, the nuances can be confusing. Here, we break down the “what” and “why” of different wine certifications.

Wine can have multiple sustainability certifications. Organic

“Certified Organic” wines must meet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program’s criteria in both farming and production, as well as requirements set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. At its core, the organic program is about the protection of natural resources, to promote biodiversity and limit the use of synthetic products, especially in the vineyards.

Once the vinification process begins, substances like commercial yeast must also be certified as organic. Naturally occurring sulfites are permitted, but sulfite additives are not allowed. This is just a small sample of protocol. Additionally, certification is an arduous, three-year process during which producers have to transition vineyards by discontinuing any use of prohibited substances.

How Yeast Works to Make Your Favorite Wines

For Sarah McCrea, vice president, marketing and strategy, of Long Meadow Ranch in Napa Valley, organic certification has long been a goal. When she sold Stony Hill Vineyard in September 2018 to Long Meadow Ranch, which has exhibited expertise in organic viticulture, she saw an opportunity to complete the transition of the vineyards. Through the elimination of synthetics, herbicides and pesticides, Stony Hill can take its farming to the next level, she says.

The USDA also offers a “made with organic grapes” label, where viticultural practices are the same as certified organic, but there’s more leeway with permitted substances like non-organic yeast and added sulfites in the winery.

Organic certifications in other parts of the world, like the European Union, differ from U.S. guidelines. In addition, while International Organization for Standardization (ISO) guidelines regulate winemaking processes globally, there are no rules for organic production methods.

At Hedges Family, poultry roam the vineyards / Photos by Kim Fetrow Demeter

Biodynamics is the next step beyond organics. Based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideology, biodynamics views the entire estate as a living organism. Naturally occurring cycles like moon phases dictate when to harvest, and there’s even a calendar for optimal wine-tasting days.

Special concoctions of herbs, minerals and manure may also be planted in the soil to aid fertilization. It’s one of the few certifications recognized globally, but in the U.S., just a handful of wineries like Hedges Family Estate have earned Demeter’s “Certified Biodynamic” seal.

Relying on Animals for Sustainable Winemaking Sustainable wine certifications

Sustainability encompasses the same environmental concerns as organic and biodynamic practices, but it also accounts for the winery’s role in the community. Under this umbrella, there are multiple certifications, but each has a slightly different emphasis and methodology. However, most conduct annual self-assessments and are audited regularly by a neutral third party.

Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW)

The largest of the sustainable certifications, CCSW places an emphasis on the production of high-quality California wine. The “Certified Sustainable” seal, which is issued by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, covers multiple aspects of a winery’s operations, from utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to greenhouse gas emissions to providing employee educational benefits. Established in 2010, producers under the CCSW label can have their vineyard, winery, or both certified sustainable. For Honig Vineyard & Winery, which runs on solar power and pays strict attention to water conservation, the third-party audit helps create consumer confidence, says Stephanie Honig, director of communications and export.

The rooftop solar panels of Stoller Family Estate’s Tasting Room / Photo by Mike Haverkate SIP Certified

While CCSW started as a statewide initiative, Sustainability in Practice (SIP) began as a regional effort in California’s Central Coast area in 2008. After expanding throughout the state, they recently started certifying vineyards elsewhere beginning with Michigan’s Waterfire Vineyards. Labor is of particular importance for SIP Certified wineries.

“The farm worker is the backbone of any farming organization,” says Steve McIntyre, of McIntyre Vineyards, one of the founders of the program. According to McIntyre as well as Paul Clifton of Hahn Winery, medical insurance and continuing education for workers contribute to a strong, loyal team that in turn create better wine, which leads to better profits, which funnels back into worker care and environmental efforts.

The Beginner's Guide to Natural Wine Lodi Rules

In addition to more than 100 sustainability standards, Lodi Rules implements a unique Pesticide Environmental Assessment System (PEAS) that examines the impact pesticides have on workers and the vineyard’s ecosystem. One of the original sustainability certifications, Lodi Rules started in 1992 as a farmer education program before pivoting to a regional sustainability certification in 2005. It went international in 2017 when Golan Heights Winery and Galil Mountain Winery in Israel certified their vineyards.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to join a high-quality existing program and avoid having to develop our own standard, thereby saving time and speeding up the process,” says Victor Schoenfeld, chief winemaker at Golan Heights. “Our goal is now to have Lodi Rules become the Israeli standard for vineyard sustainability.”

Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) Certified

Wineries in the Pacific Northwest often choose to become LIVE Certified, which takes into account unique attributes of the region. For instance, chemicals that cause ecological issues in warmer regions are permitted with no issues, or not requiring cover crops in vineyards located in arid climates. “Our approach is to work with nature, instead of fighting it,” says Melissa Burr, vice president of winemaking for the Stoller Family Estate, a LIVE-certified winery. “By fostering a habitat that supports pests’ natural predators, we encourage the ecosystem that keeps them in check.”

Red Tail Winery’s LEED-certified winery / Photo courtesy of Red Tail Winery Other Certifications Salmon Safe

Through a partnership network, many LIVE- or Demeter-certified wineries in the Pacific Northwest also seek a Salmon Safe seal, like Left Coast Estate in Oregon. The certification focuses on water-quality protection so aquatic ecosystems—and the prized salmon—can thrive.

Although the certification process was lengthy and expensive, Red Tail Ridge Winery’s use of geothermal energy in the winemaking process allowed them to reduce energy consumption by 50%.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Environmentally conscious winemaking isn’t limited to the vineyards. Nancy Irelan, co-owner/winemaker at Red Tail Ridge Winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York, built the state’s first Gold Certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) winery in 2009. Issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification is based on the sustainability and environmental impact of a winery’s design, construction and building operations. The certification levels—Silver, Gold and Platinum—is based on a points system.

Having worked in the sustainability sector in her previous career as vice president of research and development at E. & J. Gallo, Irelan and her husband, Michael Schnelle, wanted the winery to be “representative of our values and aspirations for the community,” she says.

Geothermal heating and cooling, water conservation and the use of recycled materials in construction are just a few of the measures taken.

Although the certification process was lengthy and expensive, their use of geothermal energy in the winemaking process allowed them to reduce energy consumption by 50%, says Irelan. “Due primarily to this factor, we saw a return in our investment in two-and-a-half years,” she says.

Wine Talk: Reggae-Rock Band Pepper (Wine Spectator)

Wine Spectator Headlines - December 11, 2018 - 10:00am

Since forming in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in 1997, Pepper has become one of the most popular reggae-rock bands on the scene. Members Kaleo Wassman, Bret Bollinger and Yesod Williams have been traveling the world for more than two decades, releasing seven studio albums along the way, and performing everywhere from sold-out amphitheaters to surfing competitions to low-key, hyperlocal festivals. And while plastic cups filled with beer usually litter the place at these joints, on the Pepper tour bus, wine has long been the drink of choice.

In the fall of 2017, Thomas Booth, a winemaker and the owner of Wine Boss wine bar in Paso Robles (and a longtime Pepper fan), approached the band with an idea to make a wine using the cover art of Pepper's most popular album, Kona Town. It didn't take much for the trio to embrace the wine business: Less than a year after the band's initial conversation with Booth, Pepper Kona Town wine is a fixture onstage at every show—and with the creation of their second and third releases, the band have become regulars at the Paso winery as well.

Following the success of the original 75-case run of the Kona Town Red Blend 2016, the band has just released a 2017 Red Blend "2"; now more tuned in to the winemaking process, they sourced only organically grown grapes from the Clarksburg area (the wine is Certified Green by Lodi Rules), decided to limit oak influence to neutral barrels, and put out a blend of 60 percent Petit Verdot, 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Cabernet Franc. A 2017 California rosé is also available, and the wines now ship to 35 states, though the brand continues to gain fans locally—and converts among fellow reggae-rockers. "What we're doing with Pepper wine is a grassroots type of movement," Booth told Wine Spectator.

Wine Spectator assistant editor Lexi Williams spent time with the trio during a recent concert in Coney Island, Brooklyn, to talk about the band's humble wine roots, first "oh yeah!" wines and grand plans for wine to conquer the alt-rock scene.

Pepper at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island Boardwalk in Brooklyn; photos by Cheyne Dean/Voyage in Veil Photography

Wine Spectator: How did wine come to be a staple on your tour bus?
Bret Bollinger, 38, bassist-vocalist: Oh man. We got into wine a long time ago. There's obviously great cuisine in Hawaii, and we kind of cut our teeth just [working in restaurants]. The tourists would come in and try all these different wines. We learned a lot about wine and wine pairing. We all kind of fell in love.
Yesod Williams, 38, drummer: I worked at Roy's [the Waikoloa location of chef Roy Yamaguchi's Hawaiian-fusion restaurant chain] for years on the Big Island. We all know what we're talking about when it comes to wine and what good wine is.
Kaleo Wassman, 40, guitarist-vocalist: It was like the most important luxury that Pepper could always kind of afford, because no matter what, there's always a price range that it would fall into.

Wine Spectator: What are your personal wine tastes like?
YW: We started out with reds, but as time has gone on [we got more into whites]. My favorite white wine is Ramey Chardonnay. That shit is like—it almost coats the whole inside of your mouth. I found out about Ramey in '96, when I was working at Roy's. It was the $150 bottle of white. Someone would order Ramey, and you'd be like, "Oh yeah!"
KW: My go-to is actually Chile. Chilean Cabernets are one of my all-time favorites. Also, I was in Portugal for about three weeks … [for] a little surf trip. It was the first time that I'd ever had a Vinho Verde. It was the most incredible, effervescent white wine that I've ever had. It was so delicious with all the seafood that they served.
BB: I like Old World wines. It could be because I spend so much time in Europe—I've lived in Spain part-time for about the last five years, and I have a home that's almost done there in Madrid. I like [wines] to have a lot of personality. I love Bordeauxs. I love Riojas. I like a Chianti. I'm getting into Malbec a lot too.

Wine Spectator: People might not necessarily associate your kind of music and lifestyle with wine. What would you say about that?
KW: The one thing about that is that I'm really interested in wine. I've always been a firm believer in making sure that you fill your own cup before you try to fill anyone else's. What we've done here with Thomas [Booth] is kind of really special. It seems like every single one of our peer [bands] have launched a beer—311, Rebelution, Sublime, Dirty Heads. We're kind of like the only band in our genre that is spearheading wine.
BB: It doesn't seem like it would go, but it absolutely does. I think it can enrich and invigorate certain types of music. Do I want to go see Slayer and drink wine? Maybe not right off the top. But do I want to see Maynard [James Keenan] and Tool or Perfect Circle? I do! Especially because he's so invested in wine culture and his journey with that.
YW: Some people think like, "Oh, band guys are going to make a wine." And then they're like, "Holy shit, this is actually good." And then they're like, "Wait, I didn't mean it like that!"

Wine Spectator: What's the next step for Pepper wine?
BB: We're excited to have quality wine. We took the time with [Booth] up there in Paso Robles to enjoy it and, you know, take it nice and slow. We're not just unleashing a bunch of wines on people. We're tasting and tasting and tasting until our teeth are red.
KW: We want to make it accessible. If you are able to help a novice and get them willing to try it, that's fantastic. For people to just enjoy, and then think, is what I want. Sometimes I listen to a song and I just enjoy it. I don't think about it. I'm not even listening to the words, I'm not trying to figure out what key it's in or what the tempo is or who's it by.

I'd say our three-year plan is to make sure that our wine is at every festival that includes this genre. I'm talking a huge presence, like our own parties and after-parties. And just make it fun, make it a lifestyle, because that's what it is.

The ambition runs pretty rapid, so now it's like, what's next? [In five years], a destination concert festival for our wine with bands in our genre, maybe that is in multiple places. The Warped Tour just got done, maybe we'll take over. The Wine Tour!

Six Producers Bringing out the Best in California Zinfandel

Wine Enthusiast - December 11, 2018 - 9:30am

Only a winemaker with a deep independent streak and an intentional avoidance of marketplace realities would devote their career to Zinfandel. The vines are difficult to manage, the wine is challenging to make and sales are perennially lukewarm, except among a small, dedicated following of Zin lovers.

Yet, such winemakers do exist, and the world is better because of them. The best Zin masters turn the fruit of gnarled old vines into bold, nuanced and expressive wines.

Zinfandel is known as California’s heritage variety. While it appears to have originated in what’s now Croatia, the grape came to the state in the mid 1840s. Production began to surge after the 1849 Gold Rush, well before the now-common French varieties were popular. It grew well in the Mediterranean climate and made good-quality wine in various styles, from sparkling and dessert wines to red and rosé still selections.

Zin was the “darling of the California wine industry in the 1880s,” says wine historian and author Charles L. Sullivan. It was the most widely planted red grape in the state as late as 1998, when Cabernet Sauvig­non replaced it atop the list.

Its lineage and widespread plantings account for the many small patches of old vines today. The vines survive in spite of Zinfandel’s notoriously uneven ripening habits, susceptibility to mildew and bunch rot, and only moderate color and tannin components. Grown in the right places, it has an exuberant berry-like, briary and spicy flavor profile that can be irresistible.

These six Zinfandel producers do it right. Unlike the mass-market Zins that wow drinkers with high alcohol and oaky, jammy flavors, these small-quantity, vineyard designated bottlings reflect their sites in widespread regions of the state. The wines embody subtlety and structure as they paint unique impressions of California terroir. —Jim Gordon

Tom Greenough (left) and Bill Greenough (right) of Saucelito Canyon / Photo by Shelly Waldman Bill & Tom Greenough A Zinfandel Legacy

At Saucelito Canyon, crafting nuanced Zinfandel isn’t much different today than it was when founder Bill Greenough made wine nearly 40 years ago.

“My dad’s first wines in the early 1980s were really low alcohol, 13% across the board,” says Tom Greenough, Bill’s son and the current winemaker. “Styles have changed over the years, but we’ve always tried to keep it consistent.”

Bill found the remote property surrounded by mountains behind Arroyo Grande in 1974. It was home to forgotten Zinfandel vines planted by English homesteader Henry Ditmas in 1880. Just three acres, it had been San Luis Obispo’s County’s first commercial vineyard. But the vines were abandoned around Prohibition.

Upon discovering the plot, Bill began to bring the head-pruned, dry-farmed vineyard back to life slowly. His first releases, red and white Zinfandel, were from the 1982 vintage, and he sold them from the trunk of his car.

Those restored acres still form the core of Saucelito Canyon’s estate program, which produces about 5,000 cases a year across 18 different bottlings, mostly Zinfandel varietal wines or blends.

Time to Take a Deep Look at Santa Barbara's World-Class Wines

The wines offer bright acidity and a high skin-to-juice ratio, as the old clones don’t produce very heavy clusters or big grapes. The Greenoughs enhance complexity by staggering picking times from early on through later in the season.

“The wines from here are naturally very well balanced,” says Bill, who’s focused on farming these days. “They’re not quite so big and bold. The fruit is a lot more subtle.”

He believes Tom is more adventurous in the cellar, where he cold-soaks some lots—“that used to scare me to death,” says Bill—and puts others through open-top barrel fermentation. With Zinfandel, ripeness can vary among grapes in the same cluster, so the biggest challenge is determining the grape’s sugar content at harvest.

For Tom, that’s the key to “ensure a good, clean fermentation and not get really high alcohols.”

Taking on the challenge does have its reward. Saucelito Canyon continues to make fans with its Zinfandel.

“Zinfandel had the connotation for only being really big, giant, jammy, really extracted style of wine,” says Tom. “When people try our wines and other good Zinfandel producers, they can be really surprised when it is a more elegant wine, instead of being super sweet and really alcoholic.” —Matt Kettmann

Joe Shebl of Fiddletown Cellars / Photo by Shelly Waldman Joe Shebl Seeking the Soul of a Site

Shebl is director of winemaking and general manager of Renwood Winery, one of the biggest and best Zinfandel producers in Amador County and the Sierra Foothills. He’s a strategic winemaker who’s not shy about using French oak barrels, adding a particular yeast strain that enhances a wine’s glycerol or even reducing alcohol through membrane filtration when he thinks it’s necessary.

But he gives the credit for Renwood’s impressive Zinfandels to Amador County’s shallow soils, relatively high elevation and the warm days tempered by cool evening breezes that come down from the Sierra Mountains.

“My battle cry at the winery is to find the best sites and let the fruit show through in the resulting wine,” says Shebl. “Freshness, vitality and drinkability are our hallmarks. To showcase that kind of Zinfandel, it doesn’t have to be a high-alcohol, monster wine. We’re able to preserve the soul of the site.”

Shebl started at Renwood in 1999 as a cellar worker and rose to assistant winemaker. He left in 2009 to start his own winery, Fiddletown Cellars, which also produces outstanding Zinfandels from individual sites. Ultimately, however, he would return to Renwood in 2013—it’s as if his career has come full circle.

Shebl’s Renwood wines are firm in tannins and fairly big at 14.5% alcohol, but that’s wimpy compared to some of his neighbors that register 15% and higher. The differences in the sites show through, with Riker Vineyard displaying boisterous blackberry character and Story Vineyard laden with seductive lilac aroma.

“I am lucky enough to be able to make them the way I like to drink them,” he says. “We get more of a finesse-driven style by picking sites that have the weight, but [we’re] going for the sweet-sour balance in the wine. I like it when a wine starts ‘sweet’ and soft, but has some acidity behind it.” —J.G.

Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards / Photo by Shelly Waldman Bob Biale A Hero of Heritage

If you visit Grande Vineyard along the Silverado Trail with Biale, you might be invited into Dorothy Rossi’s house for fresh-baked cookies. Her family has farmed this piece of land since 1920, still tending to many of the original vines.

Grande is one of the knockout single-­vineyard designates made by Biale and his team at Robert Biale Vineyards. Such unique, long-standing parcels are the stuff that Biale’s Zinfandel dreams are made of.

It all started with the Aldo Vineyard in Napa, in the middle of what’s now the Oak Knoll District. The plot is named after Biale’s father, Aldo, who found the head-trained Zinfandel vineyard planted in 1937. Despite urging, Aldo refused to replant the land with trendier grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. He was known to quip, “My dad grew Zinfandel and I’m sticking with Zinfandel.”

The familial vineyard and his father’s persistence in producing Zinfandel was an inspiration to Biale when he founded Robert Biale Vineyards in 1991 with childhood friend and fellow Napa native, Dave Pramuk.

Saving America’s Indigenous Wine Grapes

“Zinfandel is not only an ideal wine grape for Napa Valley, and California in general, it symbolizes our forefathers’ immigrant heritage story,” says Biale. “It’s a hardy grape that came from the Old World, adapted to a new land and went on to great success as the foundation of American winemaking.”

Biale works with dozens of historic Zinfandel and mixed-blacks sites across Napa Valley and Sonoma, on which he applies more Burgundian winemaking techniques. In 2013, Biale hired Trester “Tres” Goetting, another Napa native, to help craft the wines.

Aldo’s and Grande are two of the crown jewels in Biale’s portfolio. The winery also makes Zinfandel from the Falleri Vineyard in Calistoga, a living relic of California’s field-blend era, farmed by members of the Falleri family since the 1920s.

Other notable sites in Biale’s lineup include the Old Kraft Vineyard west of St. Helena that dates to the 1890s, one of the oldest vineyards in California; R.W. Moore Vineyard in Coombsville, originally planted to Zinfandel in 1905; and the Varozza Vineyard in St. Helena, which has been farmed by the Varozza family since 1913.

“Our remaining old vineyards in Napa are like historic treasures,” says Biale. It’s good to know that they’re in great hands. —Virginie Boone

Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane / Photo by Shelly Waldman Jake Bilbro A Sense of Place in Sonoma

Limerick Lane is a historic brand and rambling estate vineyard largely devoted to Zinfandel, which is unusual for the Russian River Valley. Though the oldest producing part of the vineyard dates to 1910, Bilbro, a Sonoma County native who took over the property in 2011, is just its third owner.

“The longer I spend at Limerick Lane, not just in the vineyard or in the winery, but living on the property, the more convinced I am that it is a truly magical site,” says Bilbro, the son of Marietta Cellars founder Chris Bilbro. “The site speaks louder to me than the variety in many ways. Our wines, while full-bodied, are less about ripe fruit and more about the interplay between tannin, acidity and fruit.”

Bilbro’s wines show a real sense of place. They combine the power of a relatively warm knoll just south of Healdsburg with the cooling influence of the Russian River Valley appellation.

This is rare dirt for Zin, a variety that remains popular and respected within Sonoma County, even as the area continues to evolve and refine its plentiful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offerings.

But Zinfandel’s history in Sonoma County is significant. The county has the second-most Zinfandel acreage after San Joaquin, with a little more than 5,000 acres planted. Zin vineyards that date back to pre-Prohibition dot the region, and some of the most important producers to put the grape on the map are based here.

Limerick Lane’s Rocky Knoll Zinfandel has been our highest-scoring Sonoma County Zin for two vintages in a row (2013 and 2014). A dry-farmed, rocky outcropping of vines interspersed with Petite Sirah and Carignan, it’s full-bodied yet balanced and beautifully put together.

“My goal isn’t to be considered a great Zinfandel producer, a great Sonoma County producer or even a great California producer, although I hope we are perceived as fitting into all of those categories,” says Bilbro. “My goal is to have Limerick Lane seen as a world-class estate producer alongside the great estates whose wines happen to be Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, et cetera.”

His hands full with the winery and being a father to four kids, Bilbro has slowly begun passing the winemaking reins for Limerick Lane to superstar Chris Pittenger.

Pittenger has been winemaker at Limerick Lane since July. He also makes the wines for his own brand, Gros Ventre Cellars, and was previously winemaker at Skinner Vineyards. —V.B.

Scott Harvey of Scott Harvey Wines / Photo by Shelly Waldman Scott Harvey Finding Beauty in Difficulty

What’s more difficult to make: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Sierra Foothills Zinfandel? Harvey, who’s crafted wines for almost 45 years, has made both more times than he can count. To him, the answer is easy. To make Zin, he contends, is not.

Harvey took his first winemaking job at Montevina Winery in Amador County in 1974, and the next year did an official work-study winemaking apprenticeship in Germany. Returning to California, he spent the next two decades making Zinfandel and other wines for Story Winery, Santino Winery and Renwood Winery, also in the Sierra Foothills.

In 1996, Harvey was recruited as partner, winemaker and president of Folie à Deux Winery in Napa. The winery was purchased out of foreclosure, and he was tasked with the mission to revive the operation.

“When I first went over to Napa and got a load of Cabernet Sauvignon delivered to the winery, I said, ‘No wonder people like making wine over here,’ ” says Harvey. “The fruit was pristine, evenly ripened and beautiful.”

Make Room in Your Cellar for California Red Blends

Harvey produced award-winning Cabernet Sauvignons from the winery’s Estate Vineyards in Napa Valley, but he also continued his passion for Amador Zin. He used the region’s best vineyard sites and relationships with local growers to produce exciting wines under the Folie à Deux brand.

Eight years later, Harvey returned to Amador County to launch his brand, Scott Harvey Wines. He knows the intricacies and potential shortcomings of the grape well, but what he is concerned about is the challenge that wine lovers face when choosing a Zinfandel.

“What’s happening in Zin is that my style is hard to find, with lighter color, still 14.5% alcohol, but not that huge residual sugar and low acidity that you find in what I call ‘New World-style’ wines,” he says. “I think the consumer is becoming confused. When I go into a restaurant myself, I am absolutely not ordering a Zinfandel if I don’t know which one it is.”

His solution has been to place a graphic on the back label of Scott Harvey Zinfandel bottles. It depicts a style scale from left to right that ranges from New World to Old World, the latter end where Harvey places his winged dragon logo. It serves to show where his dry, non-oaky, complex and high-elevation wines stand. —J.G.

Robert Henson of Peachy Canyon Winery / Photo by Shelly Waldman Robert Henson Perfecting Paso Robles

When Doug and Nancy Beckett launched Peachy Canyon Winery with 350 cases of old-vine Zinfandel in 1988, the former San Diego teachers became Paso Robles wine country pioneers.

For more than 25 years, the pair crafted rich, jammy Zins that would become the emerging region’s hallmark style with the help of their sons, Josh and Jake, who also co-founded Chronic Cellars.

Then, in 2015, the Becketts hired Robert Henson as winemaker and shifted course. Over the past three years, Henson has explored how Zinfandel can translate the terroir of the family’s five estate vineyards.

“Picked at the right time and treated with restraint, Zinfandel shows sense of place as well as any other grape,” says Henson. “It’s more like Pinot Noir than anyone knows.”

And it is often considered more challenging than Pinot Noir in the vineyard. “A perfectly ripe cluster has raisins,” he says. “If you pick without raisins, you get a green flavor, so optimal ripeness has some raisins.”

Henson worked in restaurants in the decade following college, as he opened about 45 properties for Brinker International. He then studied winemaking at California State University, Fresno, and worked for Michael Michaud, who crafted legendary Chalone Vineyard wines before he started his namesake label.

“I didn’t realize how important an apprenticeship would be,” says Henson. It was while working for Michaud that his tastes shifted from heavy Napa Cabs and Super Tuscans to more delicate, ageworthy wines. “I unlearned everything I knew,” he says.

That more delicate approach is what Henson applies to the Peachy Canyon wines. He has helped replant many of the older vineyard blocks and even dialed back production from a peak of 100,000 cases to about 50,000.

One of his favorite projects is the D-Block, a one-acre plot of 18 heritage Zinfandel clones from across the state that the University of California, Davis, collected years ago. The grapes are picked at once and go into the same bottling. The resulting complexity, Henson says, is “because all of the clones hit these different peaks and valleys.”

It’s just one more reason to revisit this new era of Zin. And one more reason why, as Henson says, “people are remembering that they like Zinfandel again.” —M.K.

Decanter.com Christmas wine gift guide

Decanter Magazine - December 11, 2018 - 8:30am

Not sure what to get the wine lover in your life? We pick some of our favourites, covering a range of budgets...

What to buy the wine lover in your life. Moët & Chandon Christmas cracker

Moët & Chandon Christmas cracker.

A new look for Moët & Chandon’s traditional Christmas cracker. Each one includes a 20cl bottle of  Moët & Chandon and festive confetti. Also available in rosé. 

£19.99 Selfridges UK

Biscuiteers Champagne Charlie gingerbread

Champagne Charlie gingerbread

A gift from Biscuiteers is an original and delicious treat, and this Champagne Charlie Jolly Ginger gingerbread will add a little festive fun.

Biscuiteers.com £6 

Wine Folly Wine Flavours wheel

Perfect for anyone studying wine tasting or simply looking to improve their skills. This colourful flavours wheel from Wine Folly will help you understand what different flavours indicate about a wine.

$5 Wine Folly

*Additional delivery charge for UK orders.

Corkcicle Canteen flask

The Corkcicle Canteen

The air-tight Corkcicle flask is perfect for keeping your wine cool on the move; ideal for taking your white wine on a picnic. It’s available in a super-stylish range of colours – members of the Decanter team are big fans.

 Amazon UK £25  

Amazon US $25.99

Riedel Extreme Pinot Noir glass set

Riedel Extreme Pinot Noir

Any wine lover will be happy to receive glassware from Riedel, especially a versatile glass like the Extreme Pinot Noir. In this set, pay for 3 glasses and get the fourth free (UK only).

 Riedel UK (set of four) £52 

 Riedel US (set of two) $45 

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV with personalised tin

Veuve Clicquot in personalised tin.

Make receiving a bottle of Veuve Clicquot  Yellow Label NV even more special by giving it in this personalised arrow tin. Add a destination of your choice and it will show how far its is from Reims, the home of the Champagne house.

£56.99 Selfridges UK

World of Wine board game

Test your wine knowledge with friends with the World of Wine board game. There are eight topics, with a total of 320 question cards (extra question packs are also available). See some of the questions here. 

Wine School Excellence £59.95*

*Extra charge for international delivery

Chapel Down lease a vine gift

Vineyards at Chapel Down.

Want a taste of owning a vineyard? Kent-based winery Chapel Down offers a ‘lease a vine’ scheme. As a leaseholder, you can visit the winery, take part in the harvest, attend an exclusive event, receive a case of the Bacchus wine and get discounts on other Chapel Down products. Choose from 5 to 40 vines, and one or three-year schemes.

Chapel Down £275 – £2700

Decanter Premium subscription

Decanter Premium subscription

For a wine lover and collector, treat them to a Decanter Premium subscription, giving them full access to Decanter’s expert tasting notes, vintage reports and exclusive articles.

 Decanter Premium – one year £75 / $100 

Wine and tapas of the Languedoc region: One-day course

Take a food and wine course in the Languedoc. Credit: www.lamaisondurire.com/

Planning a wine trip through France for 2019? Treat someone to a food-and-wine day course in the Languedoc, with Emma Kershaw who has set up her wine school in a renovated winery, La Maison du Rire. This present also includes a copy of her book A Taste of Le Sud .

  € 70 La Maison du Rire

Nude Glass wine decanter

Nude Design wine decanter

Christmas is the ultimate time to bring out the decanter to get the most from your best bottles. This stylish balancing wine decanter from Nude Glass has been cleverly designed to remain stable while revolving.

£48 Nude Glass*

*International delivery available for additional price. 

Coravin Model Two wine preservation system

To really spoil the wine lover in your life, give them a Coravin. This neat device lets you have a glass of wine without uncorking the bottle. The needle pierces through the cork, which is then sealed with argon gas – meaning the wine doesn’t come into contact with oxygen.

Amazon UK £249

Amazon US $299

Grow your own wine kit

Grow your own wine kit

Give an aspiring winemaker this fun ‘grow your own’ red wine kit, complete with a vine in a crate and personalised labels.

£38 NotOnTheHighStreet.com

zzysh by Vinturi Champagne preserver

zzysh Champagne and sparkling wine preserver. Credit: www.vinturi.com

Unfinished sparkling wine? The zzysh Champagne preserver is specially designed for sparkling wines. It uses argon gas with CO2 to prevent oxidisation and keep the wine sparkling. Ideal for any New Year’s Eve leftovers…

  $99 Vinturi

The post Decanter.com Christmas wine gift guide appeared first on Decanter.

Unfiltered: Scott Pruett Designs Custom Lexus Wine Car; Bugatti Gets a Carbon-Fiber Champagne (Wine Spectator)

Wine Spectator Headlines - December 11, 2018 - 8:00am

You're at the dealership ready to sign a lease on a brand-new Lexus. The 302-horsepower V6, dynamic radar cruise control, adaptive variable suspension and Apple CarPlayTM come standard, but as a discerning wine lover on the go, might you be interested in some upgrades? Onboard temperature-controlled wine fridge? Iceless bottle chiller? Insulated four-glass case? All of that set in a tasteful oak frame with repurposed wine-barrel accents in the trunk, plus wine-cork floormats and festive stemware-and-utensils headrest trim, wrapped in a zippy Tempranillo paintjob? Welcome to the Lexus ES 350 F Sport "Culinary Build," powered by champion pro race-car driver–turned–Syrah star Scott Pruett.

If that sounds like your dream car, the bad news is it probably is, in that you'll never own one. It's a concept car that's been making the rounds from auto shows to the Napa Valley Film Festival to upcoming food-and-wine fests like Pebble Beach and Aspen, and Lexus gave Unfiltered a definitive-sounding answer to our obvious question: "None of the features are expected to be available in a production car."

Photos courtesy of Lexus

Pruett has raced in all sorts of 4-wheeled contraptions, from karts to Indy cars to NASCAR to Grand-Am, and he's partnered with Lexus behind the wheel, in front of the camera and in the design studio since the early 2000s; he's also been making some of the top-finishing Syrahs and Cabernets in the Sierra Foothills since putting down roots in 2006. When Lexus needed to figure out what kinds of features a winemobile should have, they knew who should copilot the project.

"So, obviously not wanting to have anything alcohol-based in the cockpit area," Pruett told Unfiltered of the design process. "Doing something in the trunk, and then talking through, 'How would it work, how would you use this as a consumer, going out on a beautiful day to a picnic, something romantic or special?'" Pruett provided some bottles—and even staves and heads from some old barrels to furnish the trunk.

Concept cars can get pretty fanciful and the ideas, like most of the cars themselves, don't always fly. But "people are digging it," Pruett said of the vinous ES. Lexus said there would be no commercially produced car with all the wine mods. But … maybe there should be, Scott Pruett? "Lexus just did this as a one-off. But with that being said, I think there's some elements—especially the wine fridge and stuff in the trunk—it's really cool!" he laughed. "I'm going to have to see if I can get one for myself!"

Champagne Carbon Mods Bottle into Race Car, Fuels the New Bugatti Divo

While Lexus was imagining the car-as–wine bar, Champagne Carbon in Reims has been designing its bottles like race cars. Each is clad in three layers of carbon fiber in a packaging process done by hand that takes a week to finish, head export manager Jean-Baptiste Prevost told Unfiltered. The inspiration is Formula 1 cars—also made of carbon fiber, as the polymer is considerably lighter than steel. Somewhat surprisingly, given the crowded podium of driver-winemakers out there, F1 was without a Champagne sponsor for a few years until 2017, when the relatively new winery shifted into the position. (Carbon CEO Alexandre Mea was an amateur karting jockey, Prevost explained.)

Photos courtesy of Bugatti and Champagne Carbon

After clinching the partnership with the world's fastest car sport, Carbon announced last month it would also be riding along with the manufacturer of the world's fastest sports car (or one of them, anyway): Bugatti. "Bugatti was looking for partners who have the same vision … in terms of design and quality and craftsmanship—and French!" Prevost explained. The house unveiled a special cuvée for Bugatti's 110th anniversary victory lap. Called EB01, it's a 2002 vintage Chardonnay-dominated wine from grands and premiers crus.

While Prevost and his team have created a special blend and bottle, and mind-melded with their Bugatti counterparts on events planning and sales synergy (the U.S. market is Carbon's next race), Prevost noted that a recent work trip also involved strapping into a brand-new Bugatti Divo, a perfectly street-legal automobile that happens to have a 1,479-horsepower, 16-cylinder quad-turbocharged engine, goes 236 miles per hour, 0 to 60 in 2.4 seconds and costs $5.8 million.

Which is a very impressive feat of engineering. We humbly submit if they can do that, we should also be able to get the wine fridge in the trunk thing.

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Best Burgundy 2017: Top scoring wines

Decanter Magazine - December 11, 2018 - 7:50am

Wines scoring 98 points and above, exclusively for Decanter Premium members...

'When it's good, 2017 is really good,' says Tim Atkin MW

Burgundy 2017 is ‘a large vintage of mostly good quality wines, both red and white,’ says Tim Atkin MW in his en primeur vintage report – something the region hasn’t experienced for nearly a decade.


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Historic Madeira bottling fetches nearly $16,000 at auction

Decanter Magazine - December 11, 2018 - 4:41am

A cache of centuries-old Madeira discovered in New Jersey during renovation work has been auctioned by Christie’s, with one bottling from the late 1700s selling for nearly $16,000, while the same auction was also declared a 'watershed' moment for rare American whiskies.

Some of the Madeira discovered at Liberty Hall Musuem, including the Lenox bottlings from the late 18th century.

A ‘quart’ bottle of The Lenox Madeira, imported to Philadelphia in 1796 by Robert Lenox and originally bottled in 1798 before being re-bottled in 1888, sold for $15,925 at the Christie’s auction in New York.

Two more bottles of the same fortified wine fetched $14,700, meaning all three lots sold for close to double Christie’s’ pre-sale high estimates of $8,000. Christie’s results for the 7 December auction also show that several other bottles of the Lenox Madeira beat pre-sale estimates.

All were from a large collection of Madeira wines discovered behind a wall during renovation work at Liberty Hall Museum, a registered national landmark and part of Kean University in New Jersey.

Another larger bottling, a five-gallon ‘demijohn’ of Old Sercial Madeira, 1846, fetched $39,200 at the 7 December auction.

The wine had a nose of ‘fudge, violets, straw, vanilla and vintage furniture wax’, according to pre-auction tasting notes by Edwin Vos, head of wine sales for Continental Europe at Christie’s.

John Kean Sr, president of Liberty Hall, attended the auction and told Decanter.com that the museum was very pleased with the results, ‘although as expected, a number of items did not meet the required minimums’.

He added, ‘At this time, we have not as yet been advised as to the amount netted from the sale and, of course, will be deciding on how to handle the items that did not sell. When the final numbers are received we will determine the projects at the museum that are most urgent in need of support.’

Chris Munro, head of wine at Christie’s for the Americas, highlighted strong global demand for both the rare Madeiras and also a collection of pre-Prohibition American whiskies, which were offered in the same auction.

Munro said this represented a ‘watershed moment’ for rare American whiskey after many lots ‘smashed through’ pre-sale estimates.

A single lot containing nine quarts of JH Beam Old Style Brookhill Sour Mash 1912, fetched $26,950 versus a high estimate of $5,000.

More about the Madeira discovered at Liberty Hall

‘Christie’s specialists were astonished by the rarity of the bottles and demijohns present in the cellar,’ said Edwin Vos, in auction notes.

He said the inspection team arrived in September 2017 to find ‘Madeira bottles with handwritten labels from 1820 and the great 1808 vintage in one corner, but also a number of large hand-blown glass bottles of Robert Lenox from 1796’.

America was a key destination for Madeira wines in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Bill Schroh Jr, Liberty Hall Museum’s director of operations, told Decanter.com that the team was ‘blown away’ by the find. ‘We know of other people who found single bottles of Madeira from this era, but not three cases.’ he said.

The wine cellar at Liberty Hall had barely been touched since the 1940s.

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New Zealand whites: 2018 vintage report

Decanter Magazine - December 11, 2018 - 1:00am

Thanks to one of the hottest summers in New Zealand's history, there is a clear vintage expression across both the reds and whites from 2018 says Rebecca Gibb MW, who reports on the weather conditions across the country and selects her top white wines from recent tastings…

Triathletes clad in neoprene return to the open waters of New Zealand’s coast each November donning a couple of swimming hats to avoid ice-cream headaches, but in late 2017 the waters were so unseasonably warm even the wetsuits could be comfortably ditched in favour of a pair of budgie smugglers.

Rebecca Gibb MW’s top New Zealand white wines from 2018


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