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Updated: 16 hours 14 min ago

Jefford on Monday: Barbaresco – myth and reality

18 hours 56 min ago

Andrew Jefford discovers the unexpected after taking a closer look at the divide between Barbaresco and Barolo.

Rabajà vineyard looking towards Martinenga, Asili and the river.

What exactly is the relationship between Barolo and Barbaresco?  The Bordeaux model of Left and Right Bank isn’t echoed here, since there is no varietal difference between the two DOCGs: it’s nothing but Nebbiolo.  Perhaps the contrasting red wines of the Côtes de Nuits and the Côtes de Beaune are a better comparison: they offer a subtle difference in style based on a modulation of topography and soils.  When you peer more deeply into this question, though, there are surprises in store.

Langhe fans are sometimes startled to discover that Barolo and Barbaresco are not adjacent zones.  They are separated by the town of Alba and by much of the Dolcetto-growing zone of Diano d’Alba (which also pokes into Barolo).  Barbera d’Alba, too, can be grown in these transitional vineyards – but this enormous DOC also covers Barolo and Barbaresco in their entirety and much else beyond.

There are useful lessons here.  Both Barolo and Barbaresco are, in fact, comprehensively planted with varieties other than Nebbiolo; the villages of Neive and Treiso within Barbaresco constitute a key Moscato d’Asti-growing zone, for example, into which Nebbiolo has only begun to make inroads in recent years.  One look at the chaotic topography of the region and you will realise that this has to be so.  It’s a comprehensive contrast to the Côte d’Or.

Bricco di Neive vineyards. Credit: Andrew Jefford.

In fact what the Barolo and Barbaresco zones signal is that the greatest sites for Nebbiolo in the Langhe are found somewhere or other within their boundaries: they encircle Nebbiolo hot-spots, if you like.  Barolo is the hot-spot southwest of Alba, and Barbaresco is the hot-spot northeast of Alba.

How hot?  My assumption had always been that Barolo was the warmer of the two, and probably the lower lying, based on the fact that its tannins were grippier, its fruit more forceful, and its ageing requirements more imperative.

Wrong again.  Barbaresco is in fact lower, warmer, and usually harvests earlier.  The highest vineyard sites in La Morra and Monforte lie just above and just below 550 m, while Serralunga peaks at 450 m.  Barbaresco, by contrast, has no site higher than 500 m, and most great sites peak at 300 m or so.  It’s perfectly common in Barolo for Nebbiolo to be growing at 400 m.

There are other physical differences, too.  Barolo, lying further west, is hit by weather systems prior to Barbaresco, which enjoys a more sheltered position.  This factor made a dramatic difference in the 2014 vintage, when Barolo wrestled with a total of 1,400 mm of rain while Barbaresco strolled by with just 750 mm.

That still doesn’t explain the style difference, though, between Barbaresco’s gentleness, elegance and approachability and Barolo’s force and power.  Maybe it’s all in the soil?  Once again, our theorising seems frustrated: the limey blue-grey Sant’ Agata fossil marls and the slightly sandier or siltier Lequio formation marls dominate both zones.

Let’s head back to the map again.  Remember that the best and most Nebbiolo-friendly vineyards in Barbaresco are in the village of Barbaresco itself.  Take a look where that is: on a series of rising and falling bluffs, up above the river Tànaro.  Australian Dave Fletcher, who lives and makes wine in Barbaresco, says that its ‘golden mile’ is the proportion of the zone which runs along the river.  Barolo, by contrast, lies in its own little bowl of hills, south of the Tànaro.  There is only one Barolo village close to the Tànaro, and that is Verduno – often said to be the most ‘Barbaresco-like’ of all Barolo villages.  Could this be a clue?

Now we might be getting somewhere.  Barbaresco growers often talk about an ‘air-conditioning’ effect brought by the river – it’s breezier and less prone to storms, even though the summations show it to be warmer on aggregate.  Look, too, at the shape of the main ridge lines in both Barolo and Barbaresco (not easy for the untrained eye, I admit), and you’ll see that Barbaresco’s key sites tend to be west- or east-facing, whereas Barolo has a much higher percentage of south-facing sites.  Both of these are surely significant factors.

When you talk to the locals, too, it would seem that soil differences do indeed play a role, in that Barbaresco soils tend to be somewhat sandier, softer and warmer than Barolo soils, even though the formations are the same.  The Lequio formation in Serralunga, for example, contains less than 20 per cent sand, whereas the same formation in Treiso and Neive contains about 30 per cent sand.  And in general the Langhe soils tend to get sandier as they approach the Tànaro; Roero, on the north side of the river opposite the village of Barbaresco, is almost pure sand.  More sand means less clay in the mix, and less clay will tend to mean less retained water – which in turn is critically important for polyphenolic development.

So that’s my provisional answer to the question as to why Barbaresco differs from Barolo: proximity of the river, aspect of the main slopes and percentages of sand in the soil.

What drinkers rather than wine students should remember, though, is that we are not talking about ‘better’ and ‘worse’ here; we are talking about ‘different’.  The virtues of the finest Langhe Nebbiolo – its detail, its refinement, its grace, the brightness of its balances, and its tannic generosity (with all that implies for health, digestibility and gastronomic aptitude) — are shared by both wines.  Even if Barolo didn’t exist, Barbaresco would still be up there with the world’s greatest red wines.  Here are some examples, including some semi-mature wines recently tasted in both Barbaresco and Hong Kong.

Tasting Barbaresco

N.B. Notes on some of the current releases of the Produttori del Barbaresco can be found hereand on some of the current releases of Gaja here. 

Podere Colla, Roncaglie, Barbaresco 2013

Colla is the main landholder in the small, high-quality southwest-facing cru of Roncaglie.  This clear, deep red wine has lots of lifted charm and spicy, warm fruit: strawberry and turmeric.  On the palate, it’s an undemonstrative gauze-textured classic: long, floating, elegant, with soft, lacy tannins and a powdered-stone character lending dignity to the subtle fruits.   93

Az Ag Falletto di Bruno Giacosa, Asili, Barbaresco 2012

Three of the greatest contiguous vineyards in Barbaresco are Asili, Martinenga and Rabajà.  This Giacosa ‘merchant’ wine from the first of these is clear garnet in colour, with fruits now well into the stride of maturity: creamy, complex and autumnal, with a hint of camphor and tar.  Authoritative and ample.   94

Marchese di Gréy, Martinenga, Camp Gros, Barbaresco 2010

The entire 17-ha cru of Martinenga is owned by the Marchese di Grésy: a holding of almost unique good fortune for this region of generally morsellated holdings (though note that Grésy, which only began its own winemaking and bottling in 1973, has 11 ha planted to Nebbiolo).  This cru wine comes from the portion of vines underneath Rabajà.  No doubt the Marchese would disagree, but this seems to me perfectly mature just now: fine-lined and sweet-scented, suggesting new suede or glove leather; a little shy, creamy fruit emerges later.  On the palate, the wine is soft, open and expressive, the sustained acidity and fine-milled tannins forming a single structural arc which never disconcerts, only charms.  94

 Paitin, Sori Paitin, Barbaresco 2013

The Sori Paitin is the top part of the Paitin family’s steep Serraboella holdings in Neive.  Why separate it?  “My grandfather had one strong ox,” remembers Giovanni Pasquero Elia, “and it could manage all the vineyards.  Then it died, and the new one wasn’t as strong.  It sweated and struggled in the upper section, so we decided that the difference was there and we should make a special wine.”  This is clear red in colour, with elegant, fresh and detailed aromas: straw, wild flowers, strawberries.  After this aromatic charm, the severity and dry, rousing depths of the palate come almost as a shock: virtuoso tannins, and a sense of dark, shaded woodland in a dry season.  Deeply rewarding wine.  93

 Roagna, Pajè, Barbaresco 2011

The amphitheatre-like Pajè is found on the outskirts of Barbaresco village and is Roagna’s flagship holding, hence the three separate cuvées (and a Reserva, too).  It’s hard to believe that this wine is the most modest of these, with its refined scents of walnuts, saucisson and other fermented meats, its melting wealth of tannin, its tender softness allied to concentration and poise.  94

Roagna, Pajè, Vecchie Viti, Barbaresco 2012

Old vines are seriously defined here: 75 years or more.  Other Roagna principles include rigorously organic cultivation, late harvesting and traditional, long ageing practices.  This is a dark-hued wine with the seamless harmony of aromas which traditional ageing tends to bring: autumnal red fruits, wild-mushroom complexities.  On the palate, too, there is a glowing fruit core to the wine.  Limpidity, purity and proportion: a perfectly clothed body of wine, fresh yet rich, ample yet graceful.   95

Roagna, Crichët Pajè, Barbaresco 2007

This comes not only from very old vines (80 years +) but from the most limestone-rich section of Roagna’s holding of Pajè.  No more than 1,800 bottles are produced per year.  The wine stays with its skins for up to three months, followed by ageing in large wood only; it is released at ten years.  It’s limpid and clear, but shows little brick-red as yet; the aromas seem to have gathered inner force with the years, and evoke mushrooms, prunes, warm stones and the sweetness of veal tartare in harmonious, even symphonic style.  On the palate, the clear, smooth tannins are briefly apparent, then disappear into the refined mass of flavour: damson and black raspberry liqueur for the fruits, but it’s as salty-savoury as it is fruity.  Lingering, close-textured and tapestry-like.   97

Sottimano, Pajorè, Barbaresco 2011

Pajorè is one of the finest of Treiso’s vineyards, sited on the boundary of Barbaresco village.  Andrea Sottimano’s wine is relatively deep in colour and forthright in its aromatic style: it has some ageing in small oak barrels, but it is the redcurrant and cranberry fruits which emerge with most clarity.  Deep, full and fresh in style on the palate, with firm tannins, too, which give the wine a crunchy quality.  It remains within the Barbaresco idiom, though, and softens towards shapely grace as it leaves the palate.  Impressive energy and engagement here.   93

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Wine Legend: Château d’Yquem 1921

October 22, 2017 - 4:33am

What makes this a wine legend?

Wine Legend: Château d’Yquem 1921, Sauternes, France

Number of bottles produced: No record

Composition of blend: No record

Yield (hl/ha): No record

Alcohol content: 12.5%

Residual sugar: 112g/l

Release price: No record

Current price (at auction, 2009): £2,376 (bottle)

A legend because…

There are many outstanding vintages of this supreme sweet white wine, but none in the 20th century is more celebrated than the 1921. Decanter’€s Michael Broadbent, in Vintage Wine, describes 1921 as ‘Unquestionably the greatest [Sauternes] vintage of the 20th century, Yquem in particular being legendary.’€ The great richness of the wine reflects the vintage conditions of the year (see below).

Looking back

Yquem had 100ha (hectares) planted in 1921, compared to 113ha today. Back then, only a small amount of wine was bottled at the château, but Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces, owner at the time, was a leading proponent of château bottling as a guarantee of authenticity. From the 1924 vintage, all the wine would be bottled at the château.

The people

During the First World War, Marquis Bertrand de Lur-Saluces served as an officer, in keeping with family tradition, before taking the reins at Yquem, aged 30. He presided over the château for more than 50 years until his death in 1968, when he was succeeded by his nephew Alexandre de Lur Saluces. Today the château is owned by LVMH (Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton); main shareholders since 1999, the group appointed Pierre Lurton as managing director in 2004. Just after taking over, Lurton revealed in a Decanter masterclass that 1921 is his favourite Yquem vintage.

The vintage

1921 was the driest of 75 vintages on record, and the hottest since 1893. The unusual heat and early autumn made it difficult for red Bordeaux but perfect for Sauternes. For the first time since 1893, picking began as early as the first half of September, on the 13th. The harvest lasted six and a half weeks, with 39 days of picking. By the time it was over on 27 October, pickers had passed through the vineyard five times. Yields were not high, as sharp spring frosts had reduced the crop. The extreme dry conditions led to unparalleled richness and concentration of the grape juice. Its exceptional quality would certainly have been recognised from the outset.

The terroir

The topsoil at Yquem is warm and dry, accumulating heat thanks to the smooth, flat pebbles and coarse gravel. The clay subsoil contains good water reserves, and there are several springs on the estate. Drainage pipes were installed in the 19th century to prevent waterlogging. Plantings are split between Sémillon (80%) and Sauvignon Blanc (20%), though the proportions are more equal in the final wine due to the latter’s greater productivity.

The wine

As 1921 saw the hottest summer since the phenomenal vintage of 1893, which also produced outstanding sweet wines across Europe, the grapes reached unusually high sugar levels. This resulted in both high residual sugar and high alcohol, yet the wine remained balanced. Numerous bottlings of the 1921 vintage were made in different countries -€ many of the surviving bottles were bottled in Belgium by Van der Meulen -€ but these are inferior to the château-bottled examples.

The reaction

Michael Broadbent, in his Vintage Wine, recalls drinking the wine on more than 30 occasions. The colour is quite dark, he says, ‘at best a warm amber-gold’€, and the bouquet ‘very rich, honeyed of course, peachy, barley sugar (boiled and spun sugar), intense yet fragrant, custard cream, crème brûlée yet again, but very true’.

On the palate: ‘from sweet to very sweet, depending, I think, on context, unquestionably rich, powerful, even assertive, great length and intensity, and supported by life-preserving acidity. One of life’€s sublime experiences.’€

Bordeaux authority David Peppercorn MW concurs: ‘€It is more like an essence than a wine, a unique experience.’

Legendary wine writer Edmund Penning-Rowsell drank the wine in 1983, remarking that: ‘It had something of the richness of a fine old sweet Sherry without the alcoholic strength. Amazingly concentrated, perhaps the chief quality of this wine, it remained almost surprisingly drinkable.’€

More wine legends:

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Debunking wine myths: What to look out for

October 21, 2017 - 2:31am

Why they may not be true after all....

Debunking wine myths Myth: Wine legs mean a better wine

Do legs or ‘tears’ mean better quality? Credit: Credit: PhotoAlto sas / Alamy Stock Photo

The reality is that ‘legs tell you relatively little about the wine’, says Matt Walls.

Myth: Putting a spoon in Champagne keeps it fizzy

Credit: Gunter Kirsch / Alamy Stock Photo

Really, there’s no evidence that proves this. You’re better off using a Champagne stopper.

Myth: Sulphites cause hangovers

Although a few people are allergic to sulphites, in most cases, hangovers are caused by dehydration from alcohol, not the sulphites in the wine.

Myth: A wine punt means a better quality wine

This is not a universal rule, and some styles – like Riesling, for example – never have a punt.

Myth: White wine doesn’t go with red meat

Red meat with white wine? Do it, says Matthieu Longuère MS. Credit: Le Cordon Bleu London

Take other factors in to consideration – like acidity, age, oak – rather than just the colour of the wine.

Myth: Only white wine pairs with fish 

‘Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.’ James Bond in ‘From Russia with Love’ in 1963. Credit: Pen.

Again, there are other factors to consider. The main rule is don’t go for anything too tannic with fish.

Myth: Pale rosé wine is better

Pale, delicate coloured roses from Provence have grown in popularity, and it’s become a trend for winemakers to try and keep the colour very pale. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that deeper coloured roses are worse quality wines.

Myth: Red wine should only be served room temperature

Credit: Mike Prior/ Annabelle Sing/ Decanter

There are plenty of lighter style red wines that benefit from being lightly chilled – especially in the summer months.

Myths: All Champagne should be kept to age

Credit: Cath Lowe / Decanter

Non-Vintage Champagne is generally made to be ready-to drink. Our experts say you can keep it a couple of years but not much longer. Vintage Champagnes are the ones that benefit from some cellaring.

Find more wine questions answered here. 


The post Debunking wine myths: What to look out for appeared first on Decanter.

Penfolds launches g3: A Grange ‘blend of blends’

October 20, 2017 - 6:41am

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago has launched a wine that combines three Grange vintages and is expected to sell for A$3,000 per bottle. Anthony Rose spoke to him ahead of the unveiling and got a first taste of the 'super-blend'...

Penfolds g3 combines three Grange vintages.

Fresh from the typically snazzy launch of this year’s Collection, Penfolds’ chief winemaker Peter Gago was in London preparing the world for the launch of his new baby. The grand unveiling took place in Hong Kong this week.

Penfolds g3 is a super-blend of Grange from casks of the 2014 and 2012 vintages and the 2008 from the bottle, matured together for over a year in current use Grange barrels. It carries a price tag of 3,000 Australian dollars per bottle (£1,784 at exchange rates on 20 October).

‘People will not want to like the wine for their own reasons, but that’s Grange, bring it on.’

Before g3 was even a twinkle in Gago’s eye, he had been thinking of ‘getting back into the sparkling Burgundy thing’.

But then he asked himself ‘why sparkle it up?’ and so the idea came to him of creating a blend of blends, ‘a distillation of the essence of Grange’ as he put it.

‘2008 is the solid anchor, 2012 brings a lovely elegance, a sheen, poise, a foil, and the 2014 brings a freshening up’ said Gago.

‘G3 doesn’t look like the 2008, 2012 or 2014. There’s an otherness to it.’

As Gago put it, the solera model represents the knowledge and wisdom of Penfolds past handed down and distilled, while the blend is based on the idea of the Champagne multi-vintage cuvée.  ‘It’s a blend made to a Grange template, with Grange DNA.’

Article continues below tasting note

First taste: Anthony Rose on Penfolds g3 Penfolds, g3, South Australia, Australia

Where to buy it: Express interest through Penfolds website ‘Not a gimmick’

Gago claimed that g3 is not a gimmick or the result of a mandate handed down from head office but completely winemaking driven.

‘I don’t look on it as innovation but taking a step back and something you might do if you didn’t know there were things you were supposed to conform to.’

Launched on 18 October at Liang Yi Museum Hong Kong, g3 comes in a limited edition of 1,200 individually numbered bottles.

Each bottle of g3 is numbered.

With g3 writ large on a smart, modern label and a tall, dark green heavy-duty, broad-shouldered bottle, the wax-sealed package has luxury written all over it. As it should at its $3,000 price tag.

Gago concedes that g3 will be a wine to be collected, invested in and inherited, but laughs off the idea that it will be solely an investor’s plaything.

He hopes, and believes, that that there will be wine lovers and wine clubs who will buy it to drink and share.

While aware of the controversy it will undoubtedly provoke, he seems to relish the challenge.

‘I don’t feel too guilty about this wine. People will not want to like the wine for their own reasons, but that’s Grange, bring it on.’

Teasingly, he adds that it’s only the first and there’ll be a follow-on, but declines to specify further.

More articles like this:

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Wine making quiz – Test your knowledge

October 20, 2017 - 6:02am

We all drink good wine, but how much do you know about where it comes from? To follow on from our vine & vineyard quiz, test your cellar skills in our wine making sequel...

Scroll down and click into the box below to take the wine making quiz

The post Wine making quiz – Test your knowledge appeared first on Decanter.

Updated: Top wine hotels in South America

October 20, 2017 - 6:00am

Get your South America trip off to a flyer at one of these luxury wine hotels, now with updates including the hotel for foodies by celebrity chef Francis Mallman and candelit stargazing in your private hot tub...

Vines of Mendoza.

All the luxury South America hotel recommendations have been taken from existing travel guides, written by our experts.

Argentina Cavas Wine Lodge Luján de Cuyo

Experience the full-blown romance of stargazing in a candelit Jacuzzi… Credit:

The first luxury wine resort in Argentina and still reigning supreme, the charm of Cavas Wine Lodge is in the detail. From personalised notes on pots of homemade scones and well-timed hot water bottles at the foot of the bed; to the full-blown romance of a candlelit Jacuzzi, or rose-petal strewn cushions set by a wood fire ready for an evening of stargazing. It is impossible not to fall in love with Cavas; it respires romance. Each villa offers complete privacy, from your rooftop terrace to the personal plunge pool under the pergola. You can interact as much, or as little, as you like – which explains why it is a hot spot for demure celebs who hire the master villa with a personal chef. Book now

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, a wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

Nearest airport Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport The Vines of Mendoza Uco Valley

Wine paradise – crush your own grapes and learn to blend at The Vines of Mendoza. Image Credit:

Come during the harvest season and you’ll have the full experience of picking, sorting and crushing grapes. At any other time of year you can learn the art of blending at the winery, which makes wines for some 150 private vineyard owners. There are horse rides at sunrise with local gauchos, yoga sessions in the vineyard or a seven-course fire-cooking experience at Francis Mallmann’s Siete Fuegos restaurant. You can also walk to the Winemaker’s Village, where renowned Argentinian winemakers including Matías Michelini, Marcelo Pelleriti, Santiago Achával and Alejandro Vigil have boutique projects. There’s a tireless list of activities at The Vines of Mendoza, but equally you can just book yourself a nice massage, lounge around the pool and watch the sun dip behind the mountains while sitting by the fire pit outside your luxury villa. Book now

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, a wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

Nearest airport Mendoza Entre Cielos Luján de Cuyo 

Entre Cielos, or ‘between heavens’, spot the white pod suite towering over the Malbec vines… Image Credit:

Spend a few hours by the pool in the vineyard and an evening in one of the deluxe suites, and you’ll soon understand why the Swiss owners called their hotel Entre Cielos, or ’between heavens’. There is a strong design theme throughout the spa hotel and the most coveted room of all is the vineyard loft suite: a white pod on stilts towering over Malbec vines, with an outdoor Jacuzzi and rain shower that enjoy an uninterrupted view of the Andes. Book now

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, a wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

Nearest airport Governor Francisco Gabrielli International Airport Casa de Uco Vineyards & Wine Resort Mendoza

Magnificent Casa de Uco is spellbinding at sunset, overlooked by the Andes. Image Credit:

Situated near some of the Uco Valley’s best wineries, Casa de Uco melts into the landscape with its seamless design. It’s a true countryside retreat with villas right beside the private vineyards, and its grounds are expansive (320 ha). Horse riding or cycling is offered for free to allow you to explore the resort. If you’d rather not exert yourself, head to the spa where you’ll find vinotherapy treatments, infinity pool, jacuzzi and ‘peaceful lagoon’. Gorgeous views of the Andes mountains included. Book here

Recommended by Lonely Planet’s Wine Trails © 2015

Nearest airport Mendoza Altalaluna Boutique Hotel & Spa Salta

Panoramic views and perfect tranquility at this luxury Salta escape. Image Credit:

In Salta’s picturesque town of Tolombón you’ll find the Altalaluna Boutique Hotel, consisting of two buildings with spacious rooms, many of which have balconies with panoramic views. Enjoying breakfast or lunch on one of its patios overlooking Cafayate valley is an unforgettable experience, as is lounging by the outdoor pool. In the gourmet restaurant, you’ll find wines from local vineyards and an extensive cellar, as well as outdoor mud ovens for al fresco dining with an edge.  Book here

Recommended by Alejandro Iglesias, sommelier and wine writer who co-founded the Argentinian wine app Vinomanos

 Nearest airport Salta Grace Hotel Cafayate

A high-class resort surrounded by Cafayate vineyards and wineries… Image Credit:

The Grace Hotel is the most exclusive accommodation option in Cafayate, featuring 12 suites and 20 private bungalows surrounded by vineyards with views of Calchaquí Valley. Ideal for golf fans, it’s home to an 18-hole course; the hotel also offers horse riding, polo fields and a full-service spa. The restaurant offers Cafayate dining at its finest, with a high-end menu featuring Andean flavours and local ingredients. There’s also a wine and cigar bar to look forward to afterwards. Book here

Recommended by Alejandro Iglesias, sommelier and wine writer who co-founded the Argentinian wine app Vinomanos

 Nearest airport Cafayate Uruguay Hotel Garzón Maldonado

Step inside the world of superstar chef Francis Mallman… Image Credit:

Hotel Garzón consists of five rooms in a historic house, each reflecting the eclectic taste of the owner — Francis Mallmann. If that name doesn’t ring any bells, then this hotel isn’t for you. Hotel Garzón commands its high prices precisely because it belongs to Argentina’s biggest celebrity chef. Much like Mallmann’s cooking, the hotel has a rustic elegance with a focus on local ingredients and authenticity. There’s no shortage of glamorous hotels in the nearby beach town, Punta del Este, but Garzón, in its peaceful Maldonado setting, offers a stay of understated elegance. Book now

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, a wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

Nearest airport Punta del Este Narbona Wine Lodge Carmelo

Each and every nook of the Narbona is Instagram gold… Image Credit:

There’s a farmhouse charm to this boutique Relais & Châteaux lodge nestled between the vineyards of a private 50ha estate. Carmelo offers a peaceful step back in time accentuated by the ring of cow bells and chattering of colourful birds. Rooms in the colonial-style house at Narbona are spacious and airy, with standalone bathtubs and private terraces. The lodge’s own produce from the dairy farm, winery and distillery graces the restaurant tables. Each and every nook of the property is Instagram gold, whether you are taking tea under the pergola, wine tasting in the historic cellar or licking homemade ice cream by the pool. Book here

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, is wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

 Nearest airport Carrasco International Airport Estancia VIK José Ignacio Punta del Este

The brainchild of a half Norwegian half Uruguayan billionaire… Image Credit:

One of the best hotels – maybe the best – on the Uruguayan coast, the Estancia VIK José Ignacio is the creation of a half Norwegian half Uruguayan billionaire with a passion for contemporary art and design. Overlooking both Lake José Ignacio and the Atlantic Ocean, the hotel is perched on a small hill on a wild and solitary 1,400ha site. There’s a spa, or you can hone your tennis, horse riding and polo skills. But best of all is the wine cellar, where you can taste the estate’s own wines.  Book here

Recommended by Patricio Tapio, wine writer and Regional Chair for Argentina and the rest of South America at the Decanter World Wine Awards

 Nearest airport Punta del Este  Brazil
Hotel & Spa do Vinho Vale dos Vinhedos

An oasis in Brazil’s major wine region… Image Credit:

When you reach the top of the tree-lined driveway, the landscape of rolling hillsides carpeted with lush green vineyards could be the view from a castello in Tuscany. Each of the 128 rooms has an antiquated, regal decor and there’s an old-school charm to the silver service restaurant, which houses one of the country’s largest wine cellars. That, and a glass of local bubbly on arrival, remind you that this is the heart of Brazilian wine country, with two of the region’s top producers, Miolo and Lidio Carraro, on your doorstep. Book here

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, a wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

Nearest airport Salgado Filho Airport Chile Viña Vik Cachapoal

The state of the art winery open to guests at Viña Vik… Credit: Viña Vik

Another luxury wine wonderland from Norwegian billionaire Alexander Vik. The swooping titanium roof shimmers gold and purple in the sunshine and is the crown atop this eccentric design hotel, complete with pool, spa and a state of the art winery. Each of the 22 suites is decorated by different artists from around the world, and floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning valley views. If you’re feeling flush try the vinotherapy bath, where an entire bottle of Vik’s £115 wine is poured into your tub for good measure. Book here

Recommended by Amanda Barnes, a wine writer and editor of South American wine travel site

Nearest airport Los Angeles Maria Dolores Hotel Casablanca Spa & Wine Casablanca

Sauna, hot tub and bio-active spa treatments in Casablanca… Image Credit:

Casablanca Spa & Wine is a family-run elegant boutique hotel with just twelve rooms. It boasts a sauna, hot tub and heated pool — as well as grape-based bioactive treatments. Friendly staff can point you in the direction of local producers, of which there are many – Montsecano, Casas del Bosque, Bodegas RE, Loma Larga and Quintay to name a few. Plus, as a region Casablanca was recently voted into the Great Wine Capitals Global Network, joining the likes of Rioja and BordeauxBook here

Recommended by Peter Richards MW, award-winning wine writer, broadcaster and Regional Chair for Chile and Brazil at the Decanter World Wine Awards 

Nearest airport Santiago Lapostolle Residence Colchagua

Cutting edge design at this Relais & Chateaux eyrie. Image Credit:

There are several boutique wine hotels in Colchagua, perhaps the most impressive being the Lapostolle Residence, a luxurious and beautifully equipped Relais & Chateaux eyrie on the natural amphitheatre that is Apalta — a stone’s throw from the stunning deconstructed barrel design of the winery. Those of an active disposition can choose from cookery classes, horse or mountain bike rides, hikes, massages or the infinity pool. Prices are as steep as the hillsides here, but the standard is correspondingly high. Book here

Recommended by Peter Richards MW, award-winning wine writer, broadcaster and Regional Chair for Chile and Brazil at the Decanter World Wine Awards 

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Great value wines for the weekend under £20

October 20, 2017 - 1:09am

See our selection of Merlot from around the world - find your perfect wine for under £20, selected by Decanter's tasting team...

Great value wines under £20

Decanter’s tasting team search the key tastings to hunt down the best value wines the supermarkets, high street and wine merchants can offer.

This week’s selection takes you on a Merlot journey around the world from France to New Zealand, via Chile, South Africa, Romania and Israel. Find your favourite, all under the £20 mark and rated by our expert tasters.

See the top 6 wines in the collection below…

Each week we bring you new wines, so you can branch out from your usual choices, without breaking the bank – especially if you’re one of the wine drinkers who stick to the same wine for a decade.

Don’t forget to also look at our selection of supermarket wines.


Tour Chapoux, Bordeaux Supérieur, Bordeaux, France, 2015

Predominantly Merlot, this good value everyday drinking claret is bursting with bright and juicy red fruit characters. Rounded, seductive and fruit-forward on the palate, it is balanced out by a good tannic core that gives it a nice grip on the finish.

Points 89 Te Rakau, Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawke’s Bay, 2015

The Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand's North Island has developed a world-class reputation for its Bordeaux-style blends, made up of the classic Bordeaux varieties. This example is predominantly Merlot for a plush, chocolatey character, while the two Cabernets lend cassis and blackberry notes to the mix. There is also…

Points 89 Montes, Alpha Merlot, Colchagua, Chile, 2013

The Alpha range of wines by Montes is reliably good value. This Merlot has super-concentrated cassis on the palate with a touch of dried basil and rosemary and some violet notes. Extremely ripe, sweet and juicy with a full, dense mouthfeel. Gorgeous, but a bit one dimensional. Thankfully the generous…

Points 90 Journey’s End, Bluegum Merlot, Stellenbosch, 2014

From the Schapenberg hills in Stellenbosch, the handpicked grapes are fermented in stainless steel, and the free-run juice is then racked into 300 litre barrels for malolactic fermentation. It is then matured in a mixture of new and old French and American oak for 18 months. The wine has a…

Points 90 La Umbra, Dealu Mare, Dealurile Muntenei, Merlot, 2012

From Halewood Estates, this Romanian Merlot is full and fruity, and is one to enjoy with dishes such as pasta and ragù. Heady, jammy, bramble fruit aromas of dark cherries and cassis follow through to a juicy palate with peppery notes.

Points 88 Marks & Spencer, Koha Merlot Cabernet Franc, 2015

Platinum: Best Value New Zealand Red Bordeaux Varietals Engaging and intriguing bouquet with aromas of dark plums and black fruits. Juicy hedgerow fruit on the palate, but with beautiful freshness. A vibrant and super elegant youthful wine.

Points 95 Valenciso, Rioja, Reserva, Reserva, Rioja, 2008

Luis Valentín and Carmen Enciso’s Reserva is always a delight to taste, and ages brilliantly in bottle. Made entirely from Tempranillo, spread over 14 parcels, it’s floral, elegant and refined with impressive finesse and subtle red fruit flavours. The oak is deftly integrated, too.

Points 96 Coto de Imaz, Rioja, Gran Reserva, Rioja, 2010

Ontañon, Rioja, Ecológico, Rioja, Mainland Spain, 2013

Blackberry fruit on the nose and dry, fresh tannins. A lovely characterful Rioja, classic, restrained black fruit but with charming hints of red cherry.

Points 92 Bodegas Ramon Bilbao, Rioja, Gran Reserva, Rioja Alta, 2009

The key change over the last decade is the move to picking earlier. Spot the very youthful, juicy fruit. The tannins are still tight and young, but the fruit bursts out in between.

Points 89 Bodegas Muriel, Rioja, Taste the Difference Vinedos

Tailor made by the famous Bodegas Muriel, this 100% Tempranillo is made from old vines, with the oldest being 80 years old. This is a classic style with scented raspberry,red cherry and sweet spice. This Crianza has spent 12 months in American oak barriques, giving it a subtle sweet vanilla…

Points 89 Bodegas Aldonia, Rioja, Vendimia, Rioja, 2015

This is not your traditional Rioja, quite the opposite. Predominantly Grenache, this offering is full of red and bright juicy fruit with notes of plum and red cherry. This modern style has only spent 4 months in 500 litre oak barrels, resulting in a very fruit driven style with a…

Points 90 Oscar Tobia, Rioja, Reserva, Rioja, Mainland Spain, 2012

A full bodied Rioja that is full to the brim with chunky fruit. It has the classic softness of a Reserva with the savoury acidity of Graciano.

Points 90 Artevino, Rioja, Mainland Spain, Spain, 2010

Fragrant cherry and tobacco nose. Archetypical style, with nice toasty notes, very ripe fruit and wonderful balance, backed by fine tannins. A lovely expression of Rioja that is very inviting and savoury.

Points 90 Seda Vermella, Reserva, Rioja, Mainland Spain, Spain, 2010

Bold, forward aromas of fine, spicy oak and red berries. Plump, generous fruit palate, supported by balanced tannins. It flows well, with a medium length of flavour. A big wine with time to grow.

Points 90 Finca Allende, Rioja, Rioja, Mainland Spain, Spain, 2009

A 2009 Rioja in an austere and linear form. It is restrained but soft and savoury with leaf and cedar tones; surely quite close to its peak.

Points 88 A Christmann, Ruppertsberg Riesling, Pfalz, Germany, 2014

Weingut Im Zwölberich, Riesling Kabinett Trocken Genesis,

Wakefield Estate, Clare Valley, The Exquisite Collection

Made by the talented Adam Eggins at Wakefield Wines, this has all the varietal characters you're looking for in a Clare Valley Riesling: creamy lime curd and floral aromas, then a bone-dry palate showing apple purée and orange zest. Light and long with just enough acidity to made it a…

Points 92 Pewsey Vale, Riesling, South Australia, Australia, 2014

This is a classic Eden Valley Riesling with floral, lemon and dried herb aromas. This wine is very much alive and not only is it refreshing, it shows great depth of flavour; very distinctive and sleek too. Drinking beautifully now but will keep rewarding for five to 10 years.

Points 90 Jim Barry, Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley, 2013

Textbook Riesling: juicy and limey balanced by concentration and finesse and lifted by a zesty, fresh finish. A versatile glass of wine that will provide pleasure now, yet has the potential to develop into something much more complex.

Points 88 Hans Michel, Riesling, Alsace, France, 2015

Alsace is world-renowned for its white wines, and this dry Riesling doesn't disappoint. It has a lime and apple-drenched palate, with a backbone of acidity running through to keep things fresh and light. Good value.

Points 89 Rabbit & Spaghetti, Riesling, Clare Valley, 2014

Winemaker Adam Barton has selected old-vine fruit from Watervale, a sub-region of Clare Valley, for this Riesling, and it ticks all the boxes: lifted aromas of lime, lemon, acacia, wool, a hint of petrol and mouthwatering high acidity along with lightness of body and a crisp, clean and long finish.

Points 91 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett,

An exquisite Riesling at a great price. Aromatic floral and juicy lime intensity. It may have 42 grams of residual sugar, but thanks to the pristine acidity, it doesn’t feel that sweet. The low alcohol makes it a perfect garden-party wine.

Points 90 Rolf Binder, Eden Valley, Highness Riesling, 2013

Rolf Heinrich Binder founded this estate in 1955 and today it’s overseen by his son Rolf (who makes the reds) and daughter Christa (whites). From the eastern side of Eden, this is a lovely, blossom- and citrus-infused Riesling, with juicy acidity plus hints of apple and pear.

Points 90 Kakapo, Premium New Zealand White, Waipara Valley, 2016

A blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from the Waipara Valley on New Zealand's South Island. It has a waxy apple and stone fruit character, with a streak of lemon juice acidity running through. Round, juicy and zesty; very moreish.

Points 89 Wakefield Estate, Wrattonbully, The Restless Wine Merchant

This wine is made from fruit selected from vineyards in high quality Wrattonbully in South Australia, grown on its famous terra-rossa soils. This Shiraz has a hint of eucalyptus alongside aromas of ripe, jammy cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, sweet hedgerow fruits flavours are accompanied by black pepper spice…

Points 88 Te Mata, Estate Syrah, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, 2015

Medium-bodied Syrah, with the flowing silky red fruits indicative of its Bridge Pa and Woodthorpe origins. Aromas of violet, peony, raspberry, cranberry, sandalwood and star anise. Not terribly long, but expressive, vivid and detailed.

Points 90 Aldi, Exquisite Collection Shiraz, South Australia, 2016

This blend of Shiraz with 12% Cabernet is reminiscent of a mid-2000s Barossa Shiraz, with super-ripe red and black fruits with a jammy character. Give this a whirl if you enjoy this full on style of wine, otherwise I would suggest looking elsewhere.

Points 86 Domaine Gilles Robin, Crozes-Hermitage, Les Papillons, 2015

Made from young vines, this Crozes has a delicious black fruit nose with a waft of violet and perfumed red fruits. The palate has a concentrated meat and black fruit character with pepper and tar notes. A delicious and fairly smooth wine, ideal for matching with barbecued or grilled red…

Points 90 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, St-Joseph, Selection Offerus, 2013

Cave de Roquebrun, St-Chinian, Les Hauts de Saint Martin,

Undoubtedly the south of France is home to some of the best value reds, and this offering is full of flavour. It's packed with juicy black cherry fruit, spices and a slight leafy edge. An equal blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan with a dash of Mourvèdre, this is a…

Points 90 Mount Langi Ghiran, Grampians, Cliff Edge Shiraz, 2014

Christophe Pichon, St-Joseph, Rhône, France, 2014

Christophe Pichon owns four hectares of 35 year old Syrah in St-Joseph, which he hand harvests. It has a lovely crispy bacon and hedgerow fruit nose, while the palate is very intense yet remains juicy and supple, with precise black and red fruits. There is a good oak structure to…

Points 91 Quinta do Moinho, Vida Nova Reserva, Algarve, Portugal, 2012

Cliff Richard has a string of hits going back many years, among them Where Do We Go from Here; sadly the same could be said for his wine venture, as it is rumoured to be up for sale. Aged in oak for 12 months, this delicious Syrah Aragoñez blend exhibits…

Points 91

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Chanel expands in Bordeaux with Château Berliquet deal

October 19, 2017 - 9:21am

Luxury fashion house Chanel has bought a third Bordeaux wine estate, confirming that it has acquired Château Berliquet in St-Emilion after months of speculation.

Château Berliquet is now owned by luxury fashion house Chanel.

Maison Chanel and its owners, the Wertheimer brothers, ended several weeks of rumours by confirming the acquisition of Château Berliquet, a St-Emilion Grand Cru Classé. A fee was not disclosed. understands from sources close to the deal that it was agreed earlier this summer that Nicolas Audebert would take on management of Berliquet.

He already manages Chanel’s other two properties, nearby Château Canon and also Château Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux.

Berliquet extends over 10 hectares, is situated between Château Canon and Château Belair-Monange and is planted with 70 percent Merlot, 25 percent Cabernet Franc and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is the latest of several châteaux to change hands in Bordeaux this year.

Audebert described Berliquet as a ‘jewel’ in the heart of St-Emilion.

‘The structural imprint of the limestone plateau is evident here,’ he said, adding that the estate has the potential to produce wines that are ‘at once racy, tense and elegant’.

Château Berliquet will keep its autonomy and not integrate with Château Canon.

Previously, the estate was managed by Nicolas Thienpont, managing director of Château Pavie Macquin, with the assistance of Stéphane Derenoncourt.

‘We salute the work initiated by our predecessors, Stéphane Derenoncourt and Nicolas Thienpont, and we intend to continue these efforts to give this magnificent terroir the opportunity to express its full potential,’ said Audebert.

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Adelaide, South Australia Best of Wine Tourism winners announced

October 19, 2017 - 9:13am

Promotional feature

Seven South Australian businesses are toasting success, after being named winners in the 2018 South Australian Best of Wine Tourism Awards.

Hon Minister Leon Bignell MP and Tamara Tiller, Penfolds Cellar Door

Promotional feature

Adelaide, South Australia Best of Wine Tourism 2018 winners announced

All winners will go on to represent South Australia at the Great Wine Capitals international awards program, in Chile this November.

The South Australian winners are:

Accommodation: The Louise (Barossa)

A vista of gently rolling hills, 5000 acres of shiraz vines and a wide, open sky, there isn’t a more picturesque location than this. It was, in fact, this very view which, for US natives Jim and Helen Carreker, ended a world-wide search and saw the creation of an icon – The Louise Barossa Valley. Nothing is overlooked in this boutique venue, from the moment reception staff appear to greet you in the sculptural courtyard, to the state-of-the-art facilities (including a helipad, infinity edge pool with sweeping vineyard views and conference facilities, to the emphasis on privacy in the 15 guest suites.

Here you can choose to partake in one of the many exclusive tours offered, dine in the acclaimed Appellation Restaurant or the new, more casual Bar Louise, or simply enjoy the view from your private terrace. This is the ultimate culinary getaway, from which you can, in the words of Jim Carreker, “absorb the mood, the tone of the sky and the land in this beautiful area.” The Louise is the perfect, understated luxury from which to explore all the Barossa Valley has to offer. If there is anything more you require, all you need do is ask – The Louise will make it a reality.

Architecture and Landscape: Chapel Hill Winery (McLaren Vale)

As you drive around the bend on a typical country road the grandeur of Chapel Hill Winery rises from the hills, a spectacle of hand-hewn ironstone, stained glass and Methodist architecture. Expansions now see the winery as more a precinct than stand-alone building, although each new addition has been so carefully executed as to blend seamlessly with the namesake Methodist Chapel built in 1865. Homage is paid to the architecture at every turn – the stained glass window which draws visitors of its own accord and lends a certain magic to the interior has been adopted as the winery’s logo.

The delicious irony of a winery making its home in the chapel of tee-totalling Methodists is not lost, yet the utmost respect is given to the inherent spirituality of the place. Tasting Chapel Hill’s top-tier ‘icon’ wines seated in the chapel, with its high ceilings and carved stonework, promotes a hushed reverence. The architecture elevating the experience to something almost other-worldly. The deliberate lack of the traditional tasting bench in Cellar Door promotes movement within the building. Here the space in which you stand is treated with the same importance as the wine – encouraging exploration with all your senses. It’s the perfect way to discover McLaren Vale’s wines, landscape and history in one, simply beautiful location.

Art and Culture: Coriole Vineyards (McLaren Vale)

There’s an energy about some places which simply draws you in – a cheeky, lighthearted and genuine spirit which is, simply enchanting. With its spectacular views of McLaren Vale’s vineyards to the coast and the Lloyd family at the helm, Coriole Vineyards is one such place. This spirit is a direct reflection of the vibrant Lloyd family, their awe-inspiring spark and love for the arts and incredible humility. To CEO Mark Lloyd, his many contributions to the arts are par for the course, saying “life is about art. When you have the opportunity to make it part of your business then you’re so fortunate.” The lifestyle connotations of enjoying a region’s food and wine in a beautiful location – the key elements to most wine businesses – are here moulded into unique ways of delivering ‘lost’ forms of art (classical music, poetry and choir performances) more accessible to the general public. Proceeds from their regular events and special release wines go directly to supporting participating artists in developing new work. Paying artists a fair wage is paramount to all projects. Sponsorship via donation is also given to the Adelaide Youth Orchestra, the South Australian State Opera and other arts and culture establishments.

It may have all begun because “the Lloyd family were just always extremely good at throwing parties” but it is the absolute buy-in of the entire Coriole team which will see this winery and their region’s artistic community continue to grow for generations.

Innovative Wine Tourism Experience: Henschke and Hutton Vale Farm (Barossa)

Truth be told, the biggest asset of any region is not its produce or its landscape, it is its people. Those with a connection to the land so deep it’s an essential part of their being. In the Eden Valley, part of the greater Barossa region, this is certainly true of founding families Henschke and Angas (of Hutton Vale Farm). Their heart-felt authenticity is contagious and with their new, family-hosted offering, the Ultimate Authentic Barossa Experience, are putting the region on the world stage.

This intimate experience is about providing guests the most authentic, personalised experience of the region in a short period of time. The essence of “the way we work together and sense of place. In essence this is about sharing the best of food, family, wine and the land.” (Jan Angas) The love for this region shines brightly within both families, from their focus on sustainability to the warmth with which they receive their guests. To experience this welcome, see Eden Valley’s hills from the air in your private PC-12 aircraft, walk the iconic Hill of Grace vineyard, taste distinguished wines and ethically grown produce of the farm, hear the stories of 145 years of friendship between the families, is to fall in love. Fall in love with Eden Valley, the Barossa, and the simple charm of a rural life well lived.

Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices: Whistling Kite Vineyard (Riverland)

Organic and biodynamic are certainly buzz-words in the wine industry today, but Riverland producers Whistling Kite Vineyard’s dedication to these principles dates back 30 years to something far more personal than a trend. To owners Pam and Tony Barich “we are only custodians of the land, and it’s our duty to maintain healthy soil for future generations.” Founded in 1976 Tony’s abstention from synthetic fertilisers and nitrates was recognised as certifiably organic in 1997, with biodynamic certification coming 10 years later.

Whistling Kite wines do not shy away from seasonal unpredictability, embracing vintage variation as an essential part of winemaking, not something to be blended out. For Tony, “biodynamic farming allows the vineyard to truly express the fruit and characteristics of the vineyard on a vintage to vintage scenario, allowing us to tell more of the story of the wine.” What they’re producing here at Whistling Kite Vineyard is purity; sensory story telling of the quality of their vineyard and the Riverland region as a whole, on another plane.

Wine Tourism Restaurants: Hentley Farm Restaurant (Barossa)

Nestled along the banks of Greenock Creek, a modern atrium style dining room extends into the landscape from elegantly rustic 1880s stables. The building is a beautiful, visual indicator of what to expect from your Hentley Farm dining experience – definitively of the Barossa Valley, connected to its place like no other, yet with a modern, progressive edge. True to Barossa style there is a complete lack of pretension in this undeniably impressive restaurant, exuding a calm sense of welcome, of joining the extended family. Diners can experience an honest an direct connection to the food with the kitchen team – led by local Lachlan Cowill – venturing beyond their normal confines to serve dishes to the customer. Wine pairings to Hentley Farm wines are predictably executed with perfection. The subtleties of vintage and growing portfolio from which to choose plays of nicely against an ever-changing scope of produce from their own kitchen gardens, friends and local farmers or foraged from the surrounding landscape.

From the moment you venture beyond the hedge into this world where heritage and evolution harmonise, until you walk out the door holding your personalised menu, Hentley Farm is about making memories. Lifelong memories of South Australia, the Barossa, its food and its people.

Wine Tourism Services: Penfolds Magill Estate (Adelaide Hills)

The Penfolds name has long been synonymous with South Australia and the wine industry. With properties in both Magill (near Adelaide) and the Barossa Valley tourists have travelled throughout the state to experience the world’s most iconic wine brands. A recent redevelopment at the brand’s spiritual home, Penfolds Magill Estate has significantly raised the bar on delivering wine tourism experiences. Situated in the Adelaide foothills, just 8km from the CBD, Penfolds Magill Estate is the site for the original home of founders Dr Christopher and Mary Penfold. This rare, urban, single-site vineyard features 12 acres of vines first planted in 1844, the 173-year-old “Grange Cottage” (named for Mary’s English home), underground tunnels, a working winery, cellar door, dining and the vintage cellar.

A long-term project to refresh this beacon for Australian wine was finalised in 2015, creating specifically designed spaces to allow visitors to engage, explore, discover, enjoy and experience the quality and meaning of the Penfolds brand. There are three key features to this plan, each now housing various experiences to suit a myriad of tourists, their tastes – and visiting timelines: Penfolds Magill Estate Cellar Door, the perfect fusion of history and contemporary styling, the ultimate luxurious dining experience, Penfolds Magill Estate Restaurant and its more casual sister restaurant, the new Penfolds Magill Estate Kitchen.

Penfolds Magill Estate has built an historical vineyard into a showpiece for South Australian tourism. The spaces and growing collection of walk-in and bespoke experiences on offer continue to grow awareness not only for the Penfolds brand, but for the region as a whole, a region they are very proud to be part of and will continue to work tirelessly for.

About the Great Wine Capitals Global Network

Founded in 1999, the Great Wine Capitals Global Network is an alliance of nine internationally renowned wine regions – Adelaide|South Australia; Bordeaux, France; Mainz|Rheinhessen, Germany; Mendoza, Argentina; Porto, Portugal; Bilbao|Rioja, Spain; San Francisco|Napa Valley, USA, Valparaiso|Casablanca Valley, Chile and Verona, Italy.

The Best Of Wine Tourism awards serve as an industry benchmark for excellence and recognize leading wineries and wine-tourism related businesses within each Great Wine Capital that have distinguished themselves in areas such as innovation, service and sustainable practices. For more information visit

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Deadly fires hit wine regions in Spain and Portugal

October 19, 2017 - 7:22am

Wildfires in winemaking areas of Portugal and northern Spain have claimed at least 45 lives and burnt through thousands of hectares of agricultural land, including vineyards and winery owners' homes in both Galicia and the Dão.

The aftermath of fires in As Neves in Rías Baixas, Galicia, on 16 October.
  • Anger as death toll rises above 40 from fires
  • Winery owners report vineyard damage and some buildings destroyed
  • Employees at Casa de Mouraz hospitalised after fighting blaze at estate

Six thousand firefighters have spent the past week fighting more than 65 fires across Galicia in Spain and central Portugal. The unfolding tragedy had claimed 45 lives by Wednesday this week (18 October) – 41 in central Portugal and four in Galicia, according to the BBC.

Portugal’s interior minister resigned this week and the country has declared three days of mourning.

Winds from Hurricane Ophelia fanned the flames, worsening the situation; just as high winds also proved a major problem for thousands of fire crews battling blazes in California wine country last week.

Several winemakers in Galicia and Dão found themselves on the frontline, like their counterparts in Napa and Sonoma.

‘From Sunday night to Monday there were terrible fires all over Portugal and particularly in the Dão region,’ local winemaker Luís Lourenço told

‘It was frightening because the wind was blowing in all directions, and it was almost impossible to control the fire. At Quinta dos Roques we are surrounded by pine forests, [and] some vineyards were ignited by the heat alone. I have about 12 hectares [out of 35] affected by the fires.

‘Lots of producers in the Dão were affected.’

Sara Dionísio, owner of organic producer Casa de Mouraz in Tondela, Dão, said they lost vineyards, their home and a warehouse holding 100 pallets of wine.

‘It was all so fast,’ she said, who had been temporarily living elsewhere with her husband-winemaker Antonio, while their house was being refurbished.

‘During Sunday night we started to have winds faster than 100km/hour. We received a call that our vineyards were burning and Antonio went there with one of our employees to try to save part of the warehouse.

‘They stopped the fire in one part, but the other part completely fell down, landing on their heads. They went to hospital. It is a miracle that they are ok.’

It is understood that some family members of winery employees were among those who died in the area, although no further details were available at the present time.

The team at Casa de Mouraz managed to save the winery filled with the freshly picked 2017 harvest. They now hope that 2017 vintage sales will help fund rebuilding and replanting.

‘It is a complete tragedy and we have to talk about it, because we need to change our forest management in Portugal, especially considering climate change, so this doesn’t happen again,’ said Dionísio.

In June, 64 people were killed in forest fires in Portugal.


In northern Spain, ‘the fires were very strong in Galicia and Asturias’, said Luis Bultron, president of Galicia’s winemakers’ association.

Fire damaged vineyards in Rías Baixas. Credit: Jorge Hevella.

As Neves in Rías Baixas suffered the brunt of the fires. ‘Over 90% of the agricultural land in As Neves has been burnt, and somewhere between 15-20% of that is vineyards,’ consultant winemaker in the region, Jorge Hevella, told

‘People have lost entire vineyards here, and their homes. It’s a barbarity; these fires were caused by arson. Some of the vines will never recover, and the land is still smouldering.’

It has not been proved that arson was the cause of the fires.

Bultron added, ‘Nobody can remember an October as hot as this year and the hot air, wind and dry land combined with the fires made it an apocalyptic scene. The nuclei of the fires was in urban areas in Galicia, and in the forests in Asturias. The fire was very close but fortunately relatively few vineyard regions were affected. The worst was Rías Baixas.’

Light rainfall since Monday evening has enabled fire crews to control the fires in northern Spain and Portugal, as producers and local wine associations begin to assess the damage.

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Updated: Tasting notes decoded

October 19, 2017 - 7:12am

Get to grips with the some of the more obscure tasting notes used by wine experts, with graphics from Annabelle Sing. This week we decode 'camomile' and 'blackberry'...

How to understand tasting notes: The latest…



Camomile is a small daisy-like white flower with a gentle yet distinctive aroma, commonly encountered in tea infusions.

There is a medicinal aspect of its aroma profile that comes through as a sharp edge to the sweet floral overtones, caused by aromatic compounds known as polyphenols — also found to varying degrees in wines.

Some wines have camomile notes because they contain a similar profile of aromatic compounds, creating the illusion of the camomile scent.

Examples include white wines made from Chenin Blanc, particularly those from South African regions like Swartland, Stellenbosch, or Walker Bay. In these wines, camomile notes typically join green fruit flavours, developing a honeyed and lactic character with age.

SEE: Kleine Zalze, Family Reserve Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2014 | Schalk Burger & Sons, Welbedacht Chenin Blanc, Swartland 2010 | Beaumont, Hope Marguerite, Botriver, Walker Bay 2015

You can also look for hints of camomile among the floral aromas of Sauvignon Blanc wines from cool climate regions like Alto Adige in northern Italy.

In these wines the sweet, slightly medicinal camomile flavour meshes well with the wine’s high acidity, and can blend attractively with green fruit, citrus or melon notes.

SEE: Kaltern, Carned Kerner, Alto Adige 2014 | Kurtatsch Cortaccia, Kofl Sauvignon, Alto Adige 2014

Other high-acid, cool climate wines with camomile notes can include Pinot Gris from Austria, New South Wales, or even Prosecco.

SEE: Logan, Weelmala Pinot Gris, Orange, New South Wales 2013 | Villa Sandi, Vigna La Rivetta, Cartizze, Prosecco 2015

Camomile can also appear in bone-dry Chardonnay styles, such as Domaine Joseph Voillot, Les Cras 1er Cru, Meursault 2015 and Littorai, Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast 2013 — both of which intermingle camomile with lemon and mineral notes.



Blackberries are soft, black-coloured fruit, commonly found wild in English hedgerows during summer months. They can be eaten fresh, cooked in puddings or made into jam.

In the wine lexicon, blackberry belongs in the black fruit category, alongside similarly sweet and tart soft fruits, such as blackcurrants, blueberries and black plums.

As you might guess from their appearance, blackberries are closely related to raspberries, although the latter is considered more tart in taste and less firm in texture.

Leafy or brambly blackberry flavours might be used to describe a tannic, full-bodied red wine style that hasn’t yet fully matured. Prominent blackberry with leafy notes could also hint that the grapes didn’t fully ripen before they were harvested.

SEE: Zanoni Pietro, Zovo, Amarone della Valpolicella 2011

On the other end of the spectrum, jammy blackberry notes describe the rich ripeness associated with fruit preserves, when heat and sugar are added to intensify flavours.

If you see blackberry paired with words like cooked, stewed, jam or dried, it might be describing red wines with developed fruit flavours from controlled oxidation, a common feature of bottle-ageing.

This could apply to classic Bordeaux or Rioja blends and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, where blackberry primary fruit flavours can intertwine with oak influences like vanilla, cedar and chocolate.

SEE: Château Palmer, Margaux, 3ème Cru Classé, Bordeaux 2012 | Contador, Rioja 2014 | Ridge Vineyards, Estate Cabernet, Santa Cruz Mountains 2008

As a typical black fruit flavour, blackberry notes are ubiquitous in red wine tasting notes — from Touriga Nacional wines from Portugal, to Nero d’Avola from Sicily.

SEE: Aldi, Zom Reserva, Douro 2015 | Donnafugata, Sherazade, Sicily 2015

Look for them in certain Syrah wines from Barossa Valley and northern Rhône to compare how they interact with characteristic gamey, spicy, tarry or smokey notes to create complexity.

SEE: Penfolds, RWT Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2015 | Delas, St-Joseph Rhône 2010


Fruity Apricot

‘Apricot’ in a tasting note is in the spectrum of other stone fruits, such as peach, indicating a certain ripeness in the grapes, and used to describe white wines – although not as ripe as in hot climate wines, where the fruit descriptors become tropical, like pineapple and mango.

In Decanter’s How to read wine tasting notes, it says apricot ‘denotes warm, summery ripeness.’

Apricot is often associated with the grape Viognier, along with peach and blossom, found the in Rhône and increasingly in the New World like California and Australia. Richer Albariño, from North West Spain, is another fine white which regularly gets described with an apricot nose.

Apricot is also an aroma often found in sweet wines;  either as the fresh fruit, or dried apricot, which is sweeter and more intense.

It can be found in sweet wines like Sauternes and Tokaji, and fortified wines, like in Tawny Port, along with other dried fruits.

Dried apricot is not restricted to sweeter wines only, and is found in dry wines too, like Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, Les Dix Arpents 2014.

See: Disznókő, Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2006 | Zull, Weinviertel, Grüner Veltliner Klassik, 2016 | Château Coutet, Barsac, Bordeaux, France 2011 | Château Lamothe, Sauternes, 2eme Cru Classé, 2013



Ever caught the whiff of bananas when opening, sniffing or drinking wine? If you have, it could be for the following scientific reasons — please note there are almost certainly no actual bananas involved.

One possible cause is the winemaking process carbonic maceration, commonly used in the production of Beaujolais wines, made from the Gamay grape. In this process, the grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation, which gives Beaujolais wines their distinctive juicy or subtly tropical flavours.

The chemical compound behind banana’s aroma is mainly isoamyl acetate, an ester that’s also found in pears and bubblegum — another signature Beaujolais scent. It can occur in red or white wines as a natural by-product of carbonic maceration, or from the yeasts in regular fermentation. Interestingly, the same compound is released by the honey bees from their sting to alert fellow bees to danger.

Banana’s flavour profile is among the tropical fruits — notes like pineapple, passionfruit and lychees. Aside from Beaujolais, you can look for it in South African Pinotage. Or from aromatic white wines, especially those fermented at cooler temperatures, including Albariños like Martin Codax 2011 or Coto Redondo, Liñar de Vides 2011 both from the Spanish region of Rías Biaxas in Galicia.

In other white wines, ripe banana notes are associated with richer fruit flavours and sweet blossom aromas. Such as Haridimos Hatzidakis, Assyrtiko, Santorini 2012 or aged whites like Colonnara, Cuprese, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 1991.




Black olive

The colour of olives is generally related to how ripe they are: green olives are harvested before the olive has ripened, and black olives have been left to undergo ripening.

During the course of ripening, polyphenol (aka tannin) levels drop. As a result, the astringency of the green olive relaxes into a more gentle and earthy tasting black olive.

In wine tasting notes, black olive might be used to describe the earthy and subtly bitter edge found in some red wines. Syrah is a classic example, where black olive may be found alongside black fruit and black pepper notes.

SEE: Wind Gap, Sonoma Coast, Syrah, California 2012 | Domaine Les Bruyères, David Reynaud, Crozes-Hermitage 2015

Californian Cabernet Sauvignon from cooler vintages might display black olive, as they are generally more savoury and less fruit-forward. For example, the Cabernet dominant blend of Opus One, Oakville, Napa Valley 2009.

The primary flavours and aromas of Pinot Noir can also develop via ageing into earthy and vegetal flavours that might come under the black olive profile. For example Kutch Wines, McDougall Ranch, Sonoma Coast, California 2009 — where black olive blends with spice and forest floor flavours.





As a tasting note, cassis refers to ripe and concentrated blackcurrant flavours or aromas. It’s often used to describe rich and full-bodied red wines, such as mature Bordeaux wines, or those made from earthy southern Italian varieties such as Nero d’Avola, Aglianico and Primitivo.

The blackcurrant flavour profile belongs to a broader ‘black fruit’ category. Within that category, it’s more aligned with the tartness of blueberries, and not with the sweetness of dark plum and blackberry flavours.

The term can cover different forms of intense blackcurrant fruit flavours, from a large helping of blackcurrant jam, to a handful of the fresh berries.

The tasting term is not to be confused with the wine region of Cassis in Provence, which is renowned for rosé wines that generally express red fruit rather than black fruit notes, and white wines of a mineral and citrus character.

To fully comprehend the flavour, why not try the blackcurrant liqueur crème de cassis. This also goes well in a ‘Kir Royale’ cocktail — made by pouring a small measure into a flute and topping up with Champagne.





Cherries have a distinctive fruit character, often replicated artificially for confectionery and liqueurs. When it comes to wine tasting notes, it’s important to distinguish between different cherry forms and flavours. For starters, there are both sweet and sour cherries — think of the difference between maraschino and morello cherries.

Red cherries are seen as part of the red fruit flavour profile, and black cherries are included in the black fruit category. In both of these, cherries might be seen as not so sweet or tart as the berries, yet more concentrated than fleshy plums, for example.

In Decanter’s How to read wine tasting notes, the general character of cherry is defined as, ‘firm, vibrant fruit with a touch of acidity and none of the sweetness of, say, blackcurrants’.

Wines that can carry notes of tart cherries include northern Italian reds, such Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. Red cherry notes can be found in some Tuscan Sangiovese wines from Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti.

SEE: Giovanni Rosso, Barolo, La Serra, Piedmont, Italy, 2010 | Pio Cesare, Barbaresco, Piedmont 2013 | Bottega, Il Vino dei Poeti, Brunello di Montalcino 2010 | Monteraponi, Chianti Classico, Tuscany 2014

Young Pinot Noir wines can encompass a range of cherry flavours from red to black, particularly those of New Zealand, where some of the best examples combine cherry with hints of jam or strawberry to offset earthy notes.

SEE: Best New Zealand Pinot Noir under £20

Perhaps the wine most associated with cherries is Beaujolais, a red wine made from the Gamay grape. Cherry notes in these wines are usually the product of carbonic maceration, a process in which whole grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation. This helps to preserve the naturally juicy and fruity character of Gamay.

SEE: Domaine Georges Descombes, Morgon, Beaujolais 2015 | Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes, Côte de Brouilly, Beaujolais 2015




As a tasting note, citrus is defined by high acidity and fresh fruit flavour; characteristics that can be found in many white wines.

Although wine may not reach the acidity level of, say, lemonade, it can have a strong acidic structure that recalls sharpness of fresh lemon, lime or grapefruit on the nose and palate.

It may also be found alongside notes like ‘mineral’ or ‘steely’, because certain high acidity wines can feel almost hard-edged in the mouth, lacking in sweet fruit flavours. Accompanying notes of more sour fruits, like green apples or pears, are relatively common.

In wine, citrus is categorised as a primary aroma, because it relates to the flavour of the grapes themselves as opposed to winemaking or ageing processes.

Examples of citrussy wines can include young dry whites like Vermentino, Verdejo, Albariño and Sauvignon Blanc.

SEE: Uvaggio, Vermentino, Lodi, California 2013 | Beronia, Verdejo, Rueda, Spain 2016 | Eidosela, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Galicia, 2011 | Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2016 | Domaine Guyot, Les Loges, Pouilly-Fumé, Loire 2015

Note: citrus can sometimes be detected as citrus peel or zest, which might suggest a more pithy and intensely aromatic character than citrus juices. This is because the pungent odour of citrus fruits comes from the chemical compound limonene, which is located in the peel.




First things first, it’s important not to confuse the flavour profile of coconuts with nuts. Coconuts are not nuts, they are drupes (stone fruits). Their distinctive flavour and aroma is distinct from either fruits or nuts, and can be found in products like coconut milk or oil, as well as the desiccated coconut you might have eaten in a Bounty bar.

In wine, coconut generally manifests itself on the nose as a kind of dulled sweetness, which doesn’t pique the senses in the same way as sweet fruit or honey flavours. Instead it is more heavily aromatic, which is why it’s categorised among the ‘kernels’ such as almond, coffee and chocolate.

Notes of coconut can come from esters, which are the chemical compounds behind many aromas. Specifically lactones, which are responsible for the peculiar sweet aromas associated with coconuts. Beverley Blanning MW goes one step further in her exploration of oak aromas: ‘beta-methyl-gamma-octa-lactone – that’s coconut aroma to you and me’.

Coconut is one of the key aromas that distinguishes oaked wines, and it’s usually counted as a tertiary aroma because it’s related to the ageing process. Oak flavours can come from contact with wood chips, staves or barrels. Coconut is strongly evoked by American oak, along with vanilla notes.

Wines with coconut notes can include oaky red Riojas with some years behind them, like La Rioja Alta, 904 Gran Reserva 2007 and Bodegas Muriel, Reserva 2008. As well as big Cabernet-dominated Australian reds like Wolf Blass’ Black Label wines, aged for many months in American Oak.

SEE: Wolf Blass, Black Label 1979 | Wolf Blass, Black Label 1974 | Wolf Blass Wines, Black Label 1992



Cooked Fruit

A ‘cooked wine’ can be considered a fault. It can refer to a bottle that has been exposed to extreme heat. This can occur during shipping and is evident to the consumer as the cork can protrude and the wine quality will be greatly diminished.

However, when a person refers to ‘cooked fruit’ when tasting, this means that the grapes have had too much hang-time on the vine or too much sun exposure and are in fact overripe or even sunburned. This leads to a wine that has lower total acidity, which will make it taste less fresh; it will usually have jammy characters. This jamminess can be coupled with a higher level of alcohol, which can create a flabby mouthfeel.






Green apple

Green apples are generally thought to be more tart and less sweet than their red or yellow counterparts. To test this, try biting into a granny smith followed by a gala or golden delicious apple. You should notice your mouth water more with the green apple, as you produce more saliva in response to the higher acid content. Specifically, malic acid which is derived from the latin word for apple, ‘malum’.

Wine also contains malic acid, which can give the impression of green apple flavours and aromas in your glass. Wines that are high in malic acid have more pronounced green apple notes, these include cool climate dry whites such as Chablis wines, as well as Riesling and Grüner Veltliner from Germany or Austria. In these wines, green apple might be found alongside other green fruits with a similar flavour profile, such as gooseberry or pear, as well as mineral or metallic notes.

SEE: Domaine Jean-Paul et Benoît Droin, Valmur Grand, Chablis 2015 | Weinhof Waldschütz, Riesling Classic, Kamptal 2015 | Eschenhof Holzer, Wagram Grüner Veltliner, Wagram 2015

The effect of malic acid is not always desirable, particularly in some red wines and Chardonnays. It can be processed using malolactic fermentation, when bacteria break down the tart malic acid into lactic acid —  the same substance that’s found in dairy products. This might be used in Chardonnay wines to bring out more buttery flavours and give a more rounded creamy mouthfeel.

Sources: The Persistent Observer’s Guide to Wine: How to Enjoy the Best and Skip the Rest by J. P. Bary |





The term jammy is usually applied to red wines low in acidity but high in alcohol, such as Californian Zinfandel or Australian Shiraz. It describes ripened or cooked fruit, in which the pungency and sweetness is intensified compared to fresh fruit flavours.

Jammy is associated with red fruits like strawberries and raspberries, as well as darker fruits such as blackcurrants and blackberries — essentially fruits you can imagine making into jam.

As a fault, it can express poor growing conditions in which the vines are overexposed to heat and sunlight. This causes the grapes to ripen too quickly, and the resultant wines can develop a cloying jamminess with a flabby mouthfeel.

Wine writer Robert Haynes-Peterson notes that Pinot Noir wines are most at risk, as these thin-skinned grapes are ‘intolerant of high temperatures which results in jammy, rather than fruit-driven, wines’. Read more

However, some people see jamminess as adding an enjoyably complex and concentrated fruitiness to wines; Matetic’s EQ Syrah from the San Antonio Valley was praised by Decanter’s James Button for its ‘multi-layered jammy and savoury elements’.





Although there are many different types of melon – watermelon, canteloupes, crenshaw, hami to name a few – when talking about melon flavours in wine, we’re generally talking about those associated with the honeydew melon.

Do not confuse this with the French grape that makes Muscadet wines, Melon de Bourgogne, which actually has very little to do with melon fruit.

In the wine tasting lexicon, Melon is found among other tropical fruits like pineapple, lychee and mango. The flavour profile of ripe melon is generally fruity, refreshing and sweet, although its sugar content is not normally as high as that of pineapple.

Rosé wines can be a good place to look for melon flavours and aromas.

This is particularly true for wines from Provence, like Domaine Gavoty 2013, as well as some ‘provençal-style’ Californian rosés, such as Picayune Cellars, Rosé, Mendocino County 2016 or Arnot-Roberts, Clear Lake Rosé, Lake County 2016.

Melon can also be evoked by rosé Champagnes, made from varying ratios of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Including De Castelnau, Rosé Champagne NV, where fruity melon is balanced by floral beeswax notes.

Elsewhere, you might also find melon notes in full-bodied white wines from warm climates, such as Chardonnay from Californian regions like Napa Valley and Sonoma County. As well as in some Italian white wines like premium Pinot Grigio, or fruit-forward Prosecco wines.

SEE: Truchard, Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California 2014 | Ronco del Gelso, Sot lis Rivis, Isonzo 2012 | Masottina Extra Dry, Rive di Ogliano, Conegliano-Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2010






As you’re probably aware pineapple is a tropical fruit, with sweet and juicy pungent flesh. It’s this sweet pungency that’s reflected in some wine aromas, though no actual pineapple is present. There is such a thing as wine made from pineapples instead of grapes, but we won’t get into that here.

As a tasting note, pineapple is aligned with other sweet-smelling exotic fruits like melon, banana, guava, mango and passionfruit. Its flavour profile is sweeter than the citrus fruits, but it has a freshness that distinguishes it from stone fruits, such as apricots and peaches.

You can find pineapple notes ripe white wines, such as a Riesling like Tongue in Groove Waipara Valley, New Zealand 2013. Or you might find it in more traditional late-harvest examples, especially from cool regions like Mosel in Germany. It’s generally ascribed to the influences of Botrytis Cinerea, or Noble Rot.

As a thin-skinned grape, Riesling is particularly susceptible to Noble Rot — a fungus that pierces the skin of grapes and lowers the water content, whilst maintaining sugar levels. Botrytis is able to invoke fruity notes because of chemical compounds like fureanol, which is also found in very ripe pineapples. Look for its pineapple influence in sweet wines from Sauternes too, such as Château Suduiraut 2013.

Some oaky and ripe New World Chardonnays may also exude aromas of pineapple, as they tend to have a more exotic fruit profile, along with hints of sweet spices and a higher alcohol content. Typical examples are Californian Chardonnays, such as Fess Parker, Ashley’s Chardonnay, Santa Barbara 2014 and Y Rousseau, Milady Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2012.




It’s often hard to define a single position for plum in the tasting note lexicon, because it can appear to span stone fruit, red fruit and black fruit categories, depending on the variety and its level of freshness and ripeness.

It is commonly associated with Merlot wines, particularly in their younger years, and may denote a fleshy character to the wine. You will often find plum in tasting notes for fruit-driven varietal wines dominated by black fruits, including Cabernet Sauvignon — but not exclusively.

Sometimes tasting notes might specify ‘black plum’ or ‘dark plum’, denoting richer and sweeter flavours, as might be seen red wines from Douro, made with Portuguese varieties like Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.

SEE: Sainsbury’s, Taste the Difference Douro 2015 | Casa Ferreirinha, Callabriga, Douro 2014

You can find plum flavours and aromas in other varieties, too, such as Syrah and Grenache blends, like Domaine de la Cadenette, Costières de Nîmes, Rhône 2015 and La Cabane Reserve, Grenache & Syrah, Pays d’Oc 2015.

In Barbera and also some Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont, ripe red plum notes can be intensified by influences of sour cherry.

SEE: Ciabot Berton, Fisetta, Barbera d’Alba 2011 | Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno, Cannubi, Barolo 2009

You may also come across ‘plum jam’ in tasting notes, referring to plums which have been heated with added sugar, creating more intensely sweet, complex flavours. 

In powerful Sangiovese wines like Capanna, Brunello di Montalcino 2010 and Il Marroneto, Madonna delle Grazie, Brunello di Montalcino 2010, plum jam notes may combine with flavours of spice.






It might seem natural enough to find flavours of raisin in your wine, given that they’re really just dried out grapes. Indeed some wines are made from desiccated grapes, like Amarone wines from Valpolicella (where grapes are dried for 100 days or more), or sweet wines such as passito or vin santo styles. In these examples grapes are simply air dried by being laid out on racks in well-ventilated spaces, or hung from the rafters.

SEE: Tommasi, Ca’ Florian, Amarone della Valpolicella, Classico Riserva 2009 | Romano Dal Forno, Vigna Sere Rosso, Veneto 2004

The taste of raisins is defined by the concentration of fruit flavours and sugars left over after most of the water is removed. This explains why styles made by lowering the water content of grapes prior to pressing can later express raisiny notes in the glass. Sweet wines made using the onset of botrytis cinerea (aka noble rot) are part of this category too, as the fungus pierces the skins of the berries, lowering water content whilst retaining sugar levels. This includes wines like Sauternes from Bordeaux and Tokaji from Hungary.

Some sweet sherries are made from dried grapes too, namely those that use Pedro Ximénez or Moscatel grapes that have been left in the sun for several days. These berries make naturally sweet sherries that don’t require artificial sweetening after maturation, and they often have raisin in their tasting notes.

SEE: Maestro Sierra, Pedro Ximénez, Jerez | Osborne, 30 year old, Pedro Ximénez Venerable VORS, Jerez

In the wine lexicon, raisin belongs in the dried fruit category alongside tasting notes like dates, sultanas, dried figs and prunes. It’s not unusual to find dried fruit flavours alongside cooked or stewed ones, because the process of cooking can also concentrate sugars and flavours in a similar way to drying.

Bear in mind that wines can display dried fruit flavours even if they aren’t made from dried out grapes, because some intense, earthy or complex fruit flavours can seem raisin-like. For example, you may find raisin notes in Syrah wines from the Crozes-Hermitage or Saint-Joseph appellations in northern Rhône.

SEE: Vidal-Fleury, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône 2010 | La Tour Coste, St-Joseph, La Combe, Rhône, France, 2010

Sources: |





Strawberry falls into the red fruit flavour category, along with notes like raspberry, cherry and jam. It can be experienced as an flavour, but is most commonly identified as a wine aroma. It’s created by the fragrant organic compound called ethly methylphenylglycidate, also known as an ester.

Strawberry notes can usually be found in light reds such as Californian Zinfandel wines, and New Zealand Pinot Noirs. As well as among the complex aromas of more tannic wines made from the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo varietals.

Strawberry aromas are also expressed by rosé wines, such as Domaine Delaporte’s rosé from Sancerre and Famille Negrel’s La Petite Reine rosé from Bandol. Or even in sparkling rosé wines, such as The Wine Society’s Champagne Rosé and Exton Park’s Pinot Meunier.

The nature of the strawberry aroma can range from an attractive berry freshness, to an unpleasant cloying fruitiness. For example, sommelier Laure Patry praises Erath Vineyards’ Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 for its ‘bright and fresh with ripe strawberry aromas’. But it can be distasteful if over-pronounced, in these instances it might be paired with words like ‘cooked’ or ‘stewed’.

Benjamin Lewin MW claims the ‘strawberry notes of Pinot Noir’ are ‘released or created by yeast during fermentation’, and he argues that different strains of yeasts can be used to enhance certain aspects of a wine’s flavour profile. Read more



Herb & Spice





When it comes to alcohol, almond is perhaps most associated with Amaretto; the Italian liqueur whose name translates to ‘little bitter’. Almond’s signature bitterness is thought to be caused by benzaldehyde, which is a chemical compound formed in wines during fermentation and also carbonic maceration – when grapes are sealed in a vessel filled with carbon dioxide prior to regular fermentation.

As well as fermentation, it can also come from yeast influences, in a similar vein to biscuit and brioche notes. This could include wines rested sur lie, ‘on the lees’, or those that have undergone bâtonnage, also known as ‘lees-stirring’

Levels of benzaldehyde are generally higher in sparkling wines, particularly those made using the traditional or charmat methods.

SEE: Krug, Grande Cuvée 160ème Édition NV | Prosecco, Cartizze, Vigna La Rivetta, Villa Sandi 2015 | Bodegas Muga, Conde de Haro Brut, Cava 2013

In the wine lexicon, almond falls into the ‘kernels’ category, alongside coffee, chocolate and coconut. In Decanter’s How to read wine tasting notes, experts use almond to describe a certain ‘fruity bitterness, more refreshing than unpleasant’. It is, for example, present in the dry red wine Allegrini, Valpolicella Classico Superiore 1998.

This fruity bitterness can also feature in some young red Bordeaux wines, such as Château d’Issan, Blason d’Issan, Margaux Bordeaux, 2016 and Château Prieuré-Lichine, Margaux, 4ème Cru Classé 2016. Here, it has developed the smoky and toasted element of ‘grilled almonds’.

Sources: Wine Microbiology: Science and Technology, Claudio Delfini and Joseph V. Formica | Handbook of Enology, The Chemistry of Wine: Stabilization and Treatments edited by Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, Y. Glories, A. Maujean, Denis Dubourdieu




Asparagus as a tasting note in wine can be divisive; some love the savoury complexity it brings, while others recoil from what can seem a funky vegetal tang. It’s commonly found in descriptions of grassy white wines such as young unoaked Sauvignon Blancs, particularly those from New Zealand’s regions like Marlborough or Awatere Valley. Here it’s often accompanied by typical Sauvignon Blanc notes like green apple, gooseberry, pea or blackcurrant leaf (that’s code for cat’s urine).

• Premium New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – panel tasting results

Other unoaked whites which might have notes of asparagus include Albariño wines from Spain’s Rías Baixas region, such as Laureatus, Val do Salnés 2014. It’s also in the more unusual Vale da Capucha, Fossil, Lisboa 2012 made with a blend of local Portuguese grape varieties.

Asparagus is related to descriptors like vegetal or herbaceous, as well as more specific flavours of fennel or green bell pepper. All convey a sense of savoury bitterness that, in well-made wines, is saved from acridity by a freshness that’s almost sweet.

Scientifically, the distinctive scent of asparagus is generally attributed to odour compounds called pyrazines, which are also a cause of grassy and green bell pepper flavours and aromas. Asparagus is said to be evoked by 3-isopropyl-2-methoxypyrazine, to be precise.

Look out for distinctions within the asparagus category. For example, imagine snapping a lightly steamed asparagus stem, and the fresh, clean aromas that curl up your nose from the vapour.

Compare this to stewed or off-flavours coming from canned asparagus, which can be caused by mercaptans, aka sulphur compounds (see ‘Rubber’ below). There’s also white asparagus, which is usually considered to taste milder and more delicate than its chlorophyll-driven green cousin. All versions can add their own nuances, which can make for an all-round more interesting and appealing wine if counter-balanced correctly.

SEE: Brancott Estate, Awatere Valley, Terroir Series Sauvignon 2016 | Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2016




Black tea

Although tea might seem worlds apart from wine, it can teach us a lot about wine-tasting and is a useful tasting note. The link between the two is tannin, which is a polyphenol found in plant tissue, including grape skins, seeds, oak barrels — and tea leaves.

You can learn to distinguish how tannic a wine is by conducting a quick experiment using tea: put a black tea bag in hot water for a minute or two and taste the infusion. Then repeat, but this time allow the bag to steep for twice as long, and compare the effect on the taste. The second tea should taste more astringent, drying out your mouth and tasting almost unpleasantly bitter.

Some wines will create a similar effect on your palate, either with smooth and integrated tannins (more like the first tea), or with coarse and harsh tannins (like the second tea).

When a wine has a tasting note of black tea, this generally means it is enjoyably tannic. This can be true of the bold, characterful wines made from thick-skinned NebbioloSangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. But, just as some people must have milk with their tea, some may find this flavour too strong and may prefer a milder, less tannic wine — perhaps a Pinot Noir or Merlot.

SEE: Brovia, Ca’ Mia, Barolo 2009 | Kanonkop, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch 2005 | Il Mandorlo, Il Rotone, Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany 2009

Another aspect of tea tasting notes is identified by’s editor Sylvia Wu:

‘Tea-like aromas can be found in aged red wines, alongside scents of earth, dried-leaves and forest floor. These tertiary aromas add complexity to the original fresh fruit aromas (primary aromas), making the wine more layered and multi-dimensional.’

You can look for these tertiary aromas in aged red wines from Northern RhôneBordeaux and Barolo.






As you might imagine, wine with pungent cabbage notes is not generally what the winemaker intended. It can be identified as a tangy vegetal flavour or aroma, often calling forth over-stewed school dinner cabbage leaves.

Stewed or rotten cabbage aromas could flag up reduction in red or white wines, caused by a lack of oxygen during winemaking, which can create chemical compounds called mercaptans, also known as thiols.

Some wines affected by mercaptans could be improved by the addition of an old copper penny, because copper sulphate can react with the mercaptans to remove unpleasant odours.

However, this is by no means a sure cure.

Other mercaptan indicators include whiffs of garlic, rotten eggs, burnt rubber and struck matches.

If subtle and balanced correctly, some reductive characteristics can be desirable.

‘The struck match character associated with some barrel-fermented Chardonnays or Semillon-Sauvignon blends is a reductive one, as are the smoky/gunflint aromas of many Sauvignon Blancs,’ said Natasha Hughes MW in her guide to common wine flaws and wine faults.

Other positive examples include Savignola Paolina, Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany 2009, noted as ‘vegetal with sweat, cabbage and other unlikely descriptors’.

Whereas Jordan, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County 2009 is described as smelling like ‘red cabbage in a good way’, making for an ‘intriguing and interesting’ wine.

Sources: Wine Faults: Causes, Effects, Cures by John Hudelson |





From aromatherapy oils to car air fresheners, cedar wood is prized for its rich and woody aromatic qualities. In wines, it’s a desirable scent that often indicates the use of oak in the production of red wines.

Most commonly, in full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon single varietal and blended wines, such as those of Napa Valley or Bordeaux — particularly the Left Bank appellations. For example Château Léoville-Barton, St-Julien, 2ème Cru Classé 1990, as cited in’s How to read wine tasting notes, or Château Haut-Bailly, Pessec-Léognan 1998, as mentioned in The seven key aromas of aged Bordeaux.

As it’s related to the use of oak in post-fermentation winemaking, cedar is classified as a secondary aroma. Within this category, it signifies a fresher and more savoury aroma than notes like vanilla or butterscotch, and expresses a resinous and slightly spicy character aligned with sandalwood and cloves.

Its falls among the subtler secondary aromas, therefore it might be harder to detect in the strongly aromatic oaks; such as American oak, where coconut and vanilla fragrances can dominate.

Cedar is also incorporated in the ‘cigar box’ tasting note, which describes the combination of the aromas of rolled tobacco leaves with boxes made of cedar wood, traditionally used for storing cigars.




You might be familiar with the sight of a festive cinnamon stick bobbing in your mulled wine, but for other wines it does not feature directly. However, some wines can give the impression of cinnamon in their flavours and aromas. This is because cinnamon contains aromatic compounds called esters, one of which — ethyl cinnamate — can also be found in wine.

Quantities of ethyl cinnamate can find their way into wines during fermentation or ageing processes. The ‘ethyl’ part refers to the ethanol found in the wine which becomes an ester, compounded with cinnamic acid — the same that’s in the essential oil of cinnamon. Bottle ageing white wines is an example of how ethyl cinnamate might be produced, along with other sweet spicy notes like ginger and nutmeg.

Wines that conjure the effect of cinnamon include naturally spicy whites like Gewürztraminer, as well as in some oaky Chardonnays with toasty or nutty features.

SEE: Astrolabe, Province Chardonnay, Marlborough 2014 | Creation, Art Of Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge, Walker Bay 2015

For red wines with cinnamon notes, look to rich Italian reds such as those made from Nebbiolo or Barbera varietals as well as Amarone, a wine made using partially dried grapes to give it more concentrated flavours.

SEE: Marchesi di Gresy, Langhe Nebbiolo, Martinenga 2013 | Cantina del Glicine, La Sconsolata, Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont 2010 | Cantine Riondo, Vincini Amarone, Veneto 2012

Other reds could include certain smoky Riojas or earthy Oregon Pinot Noirs, aged in American oak. The spicy characteristics of some tawny Port wines can lend themselves to cinnamon notes too, such as Graham’s, 20 Year Old Tawny NV.

SEE: Rivers-Marie, Summa Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 | La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva, Rioja 2007

Sources: Understanding Wine Chemistry by Andrew L. Waterhouse, Gavin L. Sacks, David W. Jeffery,





Cloves are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia, commonly used as an aromatic cooking ingredient, and in the festive season you might find them bobbing in your mulled wine.

However cloves are not added during regular winemaking practices, but the impression of them might be created during oak-ageing. Clove notes can come from an aroma compound called eugenol, which is found in both oak and cloves.

The influence of eugenol on the resultant wine depends on factors such as how the wood has been toasted or seasoned, and how long the wine spends in oak.

Because clove notes usually come from oak influences, they are categorised as a secondary aroma, alongside notes like sandalwood, vanilla and cedar. In the wine lexicon they’re classified as a sweet, rather than pungent, spice — like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

You can look for clove-like flavours and aromas in wines such as classic oak-aged reds from Bordeaux, such as Château L’Eglise-Clinet, Pomerol 2016, where oaky notes of cinnamon and clove are integrated with primary dark fruit notes.

Clove can also be present in Bordeaux-style blends from Californian regions like Sonoma County and Napa Valley. For example Opus One, Napa Valley, California 2014 and the ‘Pomerol-inspired’ Verité, La Muse, Sonoma County 2014.

Sources: Handbook of Enology, The Chemistry of Wine: Stabilization and Treatments edited by Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, Y. Glories, A. Maujean, Denis Dubourdieu |




Coffee is one of four key aromas that can help you to understand the difference between an oaked and un-oaked white wine, says Decanter’s Jane Anson. The others are vanilla, coconuts and cloves, incidentally. Coffee aromas can be formed over the ageing process in young wines fresh from the barrel, which is why you so often find a hint of smoky cappuccino in vintage Champagne.

Of course, there’s no actual coffee in your wine. It’s actually a chemical compound that you can smell. An organic compound called furfurylthiol is known to give off a smoky, coffee aroma, which emanates from oak barrel toasting.










Elderflower is a classic feature of English summer drinking, whether it be infused into cordials or even fermented to become elderflower wine. But what about elderflower aromas from wines made out of grapes?

It belongs to the floral wine flavour category, in which it could be positioned as less pungently sweet than rose or violet, but not as intense and herby as geranium. It’s also tied up with the tasting term ‘hedgerow’ (see below), where it’s listed as an example of a wildflower aroma, along with notes like gooseberry, blackberry, bramble and nettle.

In this way, elderflower expresses a delicate integration between herbaceous and floral aromas, such as might be found in dry cool climate white wines, like Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire’s Sancerre appellation or Marlborough in New Zealand.

SEE: Majestic, Definition, Sancerre, Loire 2015 | Asda, Sancerre, Loire 2015

It’s often aligned with another signature Sauvignon Blanc note, ‘blackcurrant leaf’ – which can be read as code for the smell of cat’s urine, although elderflower is usually softer and less acrid. If these notes are too pronounced, it could suggest the grapes were harvested before they were allowed to fully ripen.

You can also look for elderflower notes in wines made from the Bacchus grape, a Riesling-Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau hybrid. Bacchus wines are sometimes likened to Sauvignon Blanc for their herbaceous character and high acidity.

A notable example is Winbirri’s Bacchus 2015 from Norfolk, which rose to fame as a Platinum Best in Show winner at the Decanter World Wine Awards earlier this year. Judges said the wine had a ‘complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus’.

Source: Geoff Adams, Wines of the World |


Normally associated with Australian wines (particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz), eucalypt, mint, and camphor aromas can be found in other wines too, including Argentinian Cabernet Franc. This is due to the compound 1,8-cineole, also known as eucalyptol.

Studies have shown that vineyards with a closer proximity to eucalyptus trees have a higher incidence of the chemical in the wine, and therefore a stronger note of eucalypt. Eucalpytol is transmitted through the air onto grape skins, which are then fermented into wine, giving the distinct character.







You may have seen this tasting term on the back of your bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and wondered how on earth your wine could taste like turf. When it comes to dry white wines, grassy is often used in a positive sense. It describes the pleasant herbal freshness they can exhibit on the nose and palate, reminiscent of fresh mown grass.

Grassy white wines typically come from maritime or cooler climes, such as Albariño wines from Rías Baixas in northwestern Spain and Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand. It can also turn up in some Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends from the Graves appellation in Bordeaux.

It’s not unusual for single varietal Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley to have hints of freshly cut grass too, although these wines generally have layers of citrus and floral notes tied in.

Whilst their Kiwi counterparts often integrate grassy notes with tropical fruit flavours and aromas.

SEE: Gran Vinum, Esencia Diviña, Rías Baixas, 2015 | Greywacke, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2013 | Château Chantegrive, Graves, Bordeaux 2016

Grassy notes in red wines can be part of a herbaceous bouquet that may indicate under-ripeness. This can be particularly noticeable for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, especially from cooler climate regions, and also with the Carmenère variety.

SEE: Cono Sur, 20 Barrels, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pirque, Alto Maipo 2009 |

The science: grassiness in wines is thought to come from volatile chemical compounds called aldehydes, which are released from the surface of the wine and picked up as aromas by your nose, or the retronasal passage at the back of your mouth. They are formed as a byproduct of fermentation or alcohol oxidation.

Sources: Wine: Flavour Chemistry by Ronald J. Clarke, Jokie Bakker |




Green Pepper

In cooking, some people avoid these peppers in favour of their sweeter red and yellow counterparts. But in wine, the sharply savoury aroma of a freshly-sliced green bell pepper makes it a useful tasting reference.

Sommelier Laura Ortiz explains the science: ‘When we smell green pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon, we are recognising the pyrazine, 3-isobutyl-2-methoxy piracina. A name we seldom remember, but it is impossible to forget the aroma of green pepper.’ Read the full article: Wine, in the nose.

The term green pepper can be used positively, as with some Cabernet Sauvignons from California and Chile, where it can be enjoyed as a counter-balance to the black fruit flavours like cassis. However, in those of Bordeaux a green character is less desirable, as it often taken to be a sign of under-ripeness, along with vegetal or leafy notes.

In white wines: new world Sauvignon Blancs, such as those of New Zealand and South Africa, commonly display vegetal notes like green pepper. Some people enjoy this green herbaceous character, while others prefer the more mineral examples from Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé.

Note: You may see it being alluded to under the bracket of capsicum, which simply refers to the pepper plant genus. Also, it’s not be confused with terms like ‘ground green pepper’ or ‘green peppercorns’, which refer to the peppercorn spice and not the bell pepper.






Hay can be experienced as a dried herbaceous or vegetative aroma in wine, in the same category as notes like straw, tobacco and tea. It’s usually expressed by non-fruit forward white wines, where it’s found alongside herbs and sweet floral aromas like honey or blossom.

Hay can be a secondary aroma associated with yeast influences from wines rested sur lie, ‘on the lees’, or those that have undergone bâtonnage, ‘lees-stirring’. This is commonly associated with Champagnes, like Alfred Gratien, Cuvée Paradis Brut 2006.

Notes of hay can also be an indication of maturity, thus qualifying as a tertiary aroma too. Look for it in oak-aged Chardonnays, such as Bouchard Père & Fils, Corton, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy 1955, where notes of hay are integrated with other tertiary aromas like lanolin, oatmeal and mushroom.

But be warned, when the processes of fermentation go awry the smell of mouldy hay can be a sign of microbial spoilage or brettanomyces contamination, leading to a wine that smells more like dank silage or a manure-laden farmyard.

With dank or mouldy notes it becomes a question of balance; aromas like damp hay, wet wool or ‘sweaty saddle’ may seem unpleasant to the imagination — but in wine sometimes even the most unlikely aromas can be powerfully alluring if counterbalanced correctly. Take a look at David & Nadia, Chenin blanc, Swartland, 2015, which displays ‘sweaty notes to the nose of hay and damp wool’, but this is tempered by the fruit concentration to create a ‘classy wine’.




Hedgerow refers to the shrubs, and occasionally trees, are used as natural roadside boundaries between fields. Dry white wines, such as Sancerre, often have these aromas – predominantly herbaceous, grassy and nettle-like – but they can also encompass the wild fruits and berries that grow on them too.

Examples may include elderflower, gooseberry, or even raspberries, brambles and blackberries. Hedgerow as a descriptor in a tasting note, therefore, will often denote this fresh, green integration of fruit and plant.








As a tasting note, honeysuckle is an aroma often ascribed to sweet white wines from the Sauternes and Barsac appellations in Bordeaux. This is because honeysuckle flowers exude intense honey-floral aromas associated with these wines.

They are produced using the onset of noble rot (botrytis cinerea) — a fungus that pierces the grape’s skin and accelerates the evaporation of water, drying out the berries whilst maintaining sugar levels. Noble rot can give wines a distinctively nuanced sweetness, with aromas ranging from rich butterscotch to the heady honey-floral notes of honeysuckle. See Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2012 or Château Climens 2012.

Aside from sweet wines, it’s also a typical expression of oaked Chardonnay from the Côte de Beaune appellation in Burgundy. Here, it can be found alongside other nutty and floral notes, such as Louis Latour, Meursault 1998, as seen in Decanter’how to read wine tasting notes guide. Or amongst the complex candied aromas of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Puligny-Montrachet 2015,from our Top-scoring Burgundy whites 2015.






Lavender is a highly aromatic plant; it produces lots of nectar from which bees can make high quality honey, and the plant itself is becoming more popular in cooking.

As well as being grouped with other floral aromas, like rose, it can be linked with herbaceous ones, like eucalyptus.

Aromas of lavender are found in red wines – commonly in red wines from Provence, where lavender fields are in abundance, which may be what contributes this aroma to the wines.

It’s also found in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, made in Tuscany from the Sangiovese grape, and some New World Pinot Noirs.

The compounds that are behind the cause of the lavender scent are cis-rose oxide, linalool, nerol, geraniol, according to WineFolly.

Cis-rose oxide, nerol and geraniol are also contribute to rose aromas – which can also be found in Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo (see ‘rose’ below).

SEE: Forrest, Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2013 | Innocent Bystander, Giant Steps, Applejack Vineyard, Yarra Valley 2012 | Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, “La Crau” 2010



This aroma does not come from leaves of the vine but is a flavour compound found in the skin of the grape: methoxypyrazine. This herbaceous character, which can be typical of cooler-climate Cabernet Sauvignon and is present in many Sauvignon Blancs, can be associated with a lack of ripeness. However, it can also give extra complexity to the wine if it is not too overt. Leafiness can evolve into a cigar box character when the wine is aged, but if the wine is too leafy to begin with then it may never reach its full potential as the tannins will also be unripe.







As a wine descriptor, liquorice refers to the sweet, yet slightly bitter and medicinal flavours and aromas associated with the chewy black confection made from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant root extract.

Although this is not actually present in the wines themselves, its likeness is often perceived in red wines, such as Syrah blends from Rhône, and is usually integrated with black fruit flavours. Or in the spiciness of wines made from the Nebbiolo grape, such as Barolo and Barbaresco wines from northwest Italy, where it is often expressed in harmony with violet and rose aromas.

Liquorice is part of the same flavour group as star anise and fennel, as they share chemical flavour compounds such as anethole, which is found widely in essential oils, and is responsible for their distinctive scent and taste.

It is a useful term to use to describe a particular tart and penetrating sweetness, differing from that related to sugar. Like liquorice itself, wines with this flavour or aroma can be divisive depending on personal taste; for some it recalls childhood treats, for others it causes nose-wrinkling.




Mint, or menthol aromas can be common in varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon grown in cooler climates like Bordeaux, Chile and Coonawarra in South Australia, but can also be found in other varieties such as Aragonez and Alicante Bouschet.

A mint aroma differs from a eucalypt note, which normally comes from contamination by nearby eucalypt trees. It has recently been discovered that mintiness in wine is caused by the compound piperitone, which is also found naturally in mint plants.









Notice something fungi going on with your wine? Mushroom usually appears as a tertiary aroma, formed during the ageing process. Its flavour profile is associated with other earthy notes, such as forest floor (aka sous bois) and leather. These can develop in mature Pinot Noir wines, such as Marchand & Burch, Mount Barrow Pinot Noir 2013, where tertiary mushroom aromas overlay primary floral and red fruit notes.

Mushroom may also appear in aged Nebbiolo wines, such as those made in Barolo. In a similar way, red fruit and floral notes can become intertwined with earthy flavours and aromas, including leather, liquorice and mushroom. Premium, aged red Rioja wines and Sangiovese made in Brunello di Montalcino can display this effect too, although often with some spicy hints thrown in.

SEE: E Pira and Figli, Cannubi 2006 | Beronia, Reserva, Rioja Alta 2007 | Il Marroneto, Madonna delle Grazie, Brunello di Montalcino 2012

In the wine lexicon, mushrooms are in the fresh vegetal category, alongside notes like asparagus, green pepper and black olive. However, fresh mushrooms have a very different character to cooked mushrooms, which are associated with the so-called fifth taste, umami.

To understand the difference, find a fresh mushroom and take in its smell and flavour. Gently microwave your mushroom, and observe how its flavours and aromas alter.

The umami flavour is particularly potent in truffles, a kind of subterranean fungus, which you might find hints of in mature Champagnes like Gosset, Extra Brut, Celebris, Champagne 2002 — where yeast influences deepen into umami fungi notes.

As well as oak aged Chardonnay such as Bouchard Père & Fils, Corton, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy 1955, where mushroom is joined by other tertiary notes like lanolin and oatmeal.







Even for smokers, the thought of tobacco in your wine is probably not very appealing. However, the term tobacco is used in a positive sense when it comes to describing wine. This is because it’s meant to conjure the fragrance of fresh tobacco, rather than the more acrid smell of cigarette smoke.

The aroma of freshly cut or cured tobacco leaves is often described as enjoyably woody, with a maple sweetness and violet floral notes. It’s considered so pleasant by some it’s even infused into men’s fragrances.

Tobacco is experienced as an aroma, rather than as taste. More specifically, it’s classified as a tertiary aroma, as it’s considered to be a sign of maturity. It’s generally an indicator that a red wine has been bottle-aged, along with notes like leather and wet leaves.

Typically, tobacco notes are found in mature full-bodied red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignons from a range of regions, including those of California, Australia, South Africa and South America. It can also be detected in some aged Riojas and Amarone wines from Northern Italy.

In wines such as mature reds from Bordeaux, the tobacco aroma can develop into what is termed ‘cigar box’. This note combines the tobacco scent of cigars with that of cedar wood, giving the effect of a freshly opened box of Havanas.




As with many floral notes in wine, rose is sweet on the nose but more bitter and austere on the palate. In this way it’s comparable to notes of violet and magnolia, stopping short of the slight acridity of lily or geranium.

You may find the flower referred to directly or as ‘rose petal’, as well in the form ‘rose water’ — which suggests it smells more like musky perfume, or tastes a bit like Turkish Delight.

The science behind rose’s flavour profile comes down to 3 key chemical compounds: rose oxide, β-damascenone and β-ionone.

Usually it’s the rose oxide element that makes it comparable with the smell of some Gewürtztraminer wines. They’re known for their highly aromatic qualities and signature lychee notes — a fruit which carries the same rose oxide compound.

SEE: Jean Cornelius, Gewürztraminer, Alsace 2015 | Paul Cluver, Gewürztraminer, Elgin 2015

β-ionone is also behind the aroma of violets, so it makes sense that violet-scented wines can sometimes harbour rose hints too — such as red wines made in Piedmont from the thick-skinned Nebbiolo grape. You can also look for rose notes in young Pinot Noir wines, particularly those made in Australia and New Zealand.

SEE: Henschke, The Rose Grower Nebbiolo, Eden Valley, Australia 2013 | Giovanni Rosso, Serra, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy 2012 | Pegasus Bay, Pinot Noir, Waipara, New Zealand 2013 | Deviation Road, Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia 2012

Note: Rose as a tasting note has little to do with rosé wines, which are named after their pinkish colour rather than for a floral character (see Spanish rosado and Italian rosato equivalents).


Rubber is one of those tasting notes that can be difficult to imagine in a wine, but once smelt it’s unmistakable. You can find it in the aromas of certain Syrah wines from the northern Rhône, where it can appear alongside earthy, gamey or tar notes.

Or it can be found among petrol aromas associated with dry Riesling wines, particularly those from cooler climes such as Germany’s Rheingau region.

SEE: Delas, Francois de Tournon, Saint Joseph, Rhône 2010 | Maison Guyot, Le Millepertuis, Crozes-Hermitage, Rhône 2010 | Weingut Knoll, Riesling Kabinett, Pfaffenberg, Niederösterreich 2013

Burnt rubber on the other hand, can point to the presence of mercaptans, which are volatile sulphur compounds. But how does sulphur get into your wine? The truth is grapes themselves already contain sulphur, and sulphur compounds can be generated through reductive reactions involved in winemaking, such as yeast fermentation or malolactic fermentation. Mercaptans are not harmful, but they can become a fault if too concentrated — decanting the wine first can help to lessen their effect.

Volatile sulphur compounds have become a hot topic in winemaking in recent years. They have proved a particular source of controversy in some wines, notably in relation to burnt rubber aromas in some South African Pinotage and Cabernet wines. Today, growers increasingly try to avoid this, aiming for more fruit forward wines.

In the tasting note lexicon, rubber belongs to the mineral flavour profile, which includes anything ranging from earth to tar, and steel to wet wool. The best way to learn to recognise these notes in wine is to experience them in their physical forms, such as smelling a rubber eraser or car tires on a hot day (burnt rubber) — try to embed these aromas in your sensory memory.


Vanilla is one of the most frequent tasting notes applied to wines, and it belongs to the sweet spice category. It can be found in red or white wines, usually as an aroma instead of a taste. Vanilla notes are usually generated during the ageing process of wine in oak barrels, typically American oak as opposed to French oak, and younger barrels rather than older. In this sense it is identified as a tertiary aroma, as it is produced by wine ageing.

Decanter’s Sarah Jane Evans MW explains the science: ‘Vanilla, or vanillin, is an aldehyde that is a component of the oak. It is more marked in US oak’. Read more

Reds from Rioja are a common example, such as Faustino’s Gran Reserva 2001, praised for its ‘sweet, vanilla notes of American oak’ — as are oak-aged Chardonnay wines from California and Australia.

The way a barrel is toasted can also bring out vanilla in wines, as William Kelley notes, ‘lighter toast levels bring aromas of vanilla and fresh wood to the fore’.





When describing wine, vegetal can be used in a negative or positive sense — as with most tasting notes it’s a question of balance. If the vegetal character is too overbearing, it can become an unpleasant indicator that the wine is too ‘green’, meaning the grapes used were unable to ripen properly before being harvested.

Or alternatively, as with fruity notes, it can appear as unattractively over-developed or stewed. Such as one Chianti Classico Riserva described by Michael Palij MW as ‘vegetal with sweat, cabbage’.

Vegetal notes can also be associated with the term ‘stalky’, when wines have had too much stem contact. This can happen during a winemaking process such as whole bunch fermentation, where the stems are not removed before the fruit goes into the fermentation vat. Decanter’s Jane Anson discusses its use in her article Whole bunch winemaking shakes up Bordeaux. She says that in the past the prevailing opinion has been: ‘Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon have too much vegetal/green flavour in their varietal DNA (specifically a molecule known as pyrazine) to withstand the use of stems that can lead to bitterness in the final wine.’ However, recently several high profile winemakers have begun to see potential in the process.

The divided nature of the vegetal flavour can be seen by comparing the styles of Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand and the Loire. ‘No self-respecting Loire grower would deliberately aim for vegetal characters; on the other hand many New Zealand growers do precisely that,’ explains Decanter’s Stephen Brook.

At its best, vegetal can be enjoyed as a sign of herbaceous complexity; alongside gamey and earthy notes in mature Pinot Noirs, or in the asparagus quality of some Sauvignon Blancs.


As a tasting note, violet is generally picked up as an aroma in wine, but it can be a flavour too — as anyone with a penchant for Parma Violet sweets will know. Violet commonly displays a musky sweetness on the nose, but tastes a touch more bitter and austere on the palate. In this way, it can be aligned with other bittersweet and perfumed floral notes such as bergamot, rose, geranium and lavender. Just like perfume, it’s a matter of preference whether you find violet flavours and aromas off-putting or appealing in wines.

The distinctive scent and flavour comes from two chemical compounds: α-ionone and β-ionone, which are also used in the confectionary and perfumery products derived from violets.

It’s crops up in a broad range of full-bodied tannic red wine styles with high acidity, usually made from thick-skinned grapes. Such as Italian wines like Barolo and Barbaresco made from the Nebbiolo varietal, where violet can be found alongside notes of fennel, liquorice and tar.

It’s also abundant in Bordeaux blends, and it’s commonly referred to in the latest Decanter’s en primeur tastings. Most notably, in Pomerol’s high scorers Château La Conseillante 2016 and Château La Fleur-Pétrus 2016, where violet is coupled with dark fruit notes like black cherry, blackberry and bilberry.


Other Biscuit

Biscuit/biscuity descriptors are most often associated with aged Champagne, where the process of yeast autolysis and time enable a rich, digestive biscuit-like character to develop. It can also be found in oak-aged Chardonnay, where it can be a development of the caramelised butterscotch aromas that comes from the wood.



The butter-rich brioche bun is the staple of many a French breakfast table, perfect with apricot jam and a grand café noir. For anyone who hasn’t experienced its

No added brioche.

simple delights, the brioche is essentially a yeast bread enriched with butter and eggs, sometimes with more sweetness if made with cream and sugar.

As a tasting note, brioche has three main components: rounded butter and yeast flavours, piqued by pastry sweetness. It’s categorised alongside other non-fruity sweet notes like honey or vanilla, and it’s commonly accompanied by adjectives like buttery, creamy, toasty and yeasty.

‘Warm brioche’ is also a term used, though it has relation a wine’s temperature. It refers to the heightened aromas of a heated pastry.

A yeasty brioche effect can be brought about by sur lie; ’resting’ the wine on its dead yeast cells known as lees, or bâtonnage (stirring the lees). During prolonged contact with the lees, autolysis occurs — when the yeast cells are broken down by enzymes, releasing macromolecules that impart biscuit, toast or brioche flavours. These processes are mostly associated with sparkling wines, including those of ChampagneCava and the United Kingdom.

You can also find this in some aged Chardonnay or Sémillon wines.

SEE: Recaredo, Turó d’en Mota, Cava, Mainland Spain, Spain, 2002 | Krug, Grande Cuvée, Champagne, France NV | Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs, East Sussex, Brut 2010
SEE: Vasse Felix, Heytesbury, Margaret River, 2011 |Tempus Two, Copper Zenith Semillon, Hunter Valley 2007




Bubblegum is a unique aroma that is found in wines that have undergone carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration. Whole bunches are placed into a sealed fermentation vessel. CO2 is added either artificially (carbonic), or occurs naturally via aerobic fermentation (semi-carbonic). Once the CO2 is added, enzymes begin consuming the available sugars in an anaerobic fermentation process. This process will only produce about three degrees of alcohol, so it must always be followed with a normal yeast fermentation. Although it produces little alcohol it has a marked effect on the aroma and taste of the wine.

In these processes, esters such as ethyl cinnamate are produced in higher quantities than normal, lending flavours such as raspberry, strawberry, bubblegum and even candy floss. The low level of contact between skin and juice means that little tannin is extracted, so wines that undergo this process (most famous being Beaujolais Nouveau) can be drunk soon after fermentation.

The bubblegum flavour can also indicate an excessive use of potassium sorbate – a chemical that is used at the end of fermentation to prevent the yeast from multiplying further.






Buttery flavours or aromas are normally associated with white wines, and can be produced during malolactic fermentation or oak barrel-ageing. These wines are typically Chardonnays from California, Australia and Burgundy.

The effect of a buttery scent or taste can be produced by a chemical compound called diacetyl — it’s also added to artificial butter products and margarines. Diecetyl can also change the mouthfeel of wines, giving them a smoother and more rounded texture, as might be associated with butter.

In winemaking it occurs as a natural byproduct of malolactic fermentation; the process by which bacteria converts malic acid into lactic acid — the same substance that is found in dairy products like butter.

Alternatively, buttery flavours and aromas can be produced during the process of barrel-ageing wines in new oak. A good example is an oaked Chardonnay like Louis Latour’s Meursault 1998, which can be found in Decanter’s how to read wine tasting notes guide. In these tasting notes ‘new wood’ flavours of vanilla appear alongside butter, both are secondary aromas that indicate at least some of the wine has been aged in new American oak.

In some instances, bâtonnage (stirring the lees) can produce butter-like flavours: the macromolecules imparted by the dead yeast cells create a smoother mouthfeel and richer yeasty flavours, which can be reminiscent of butter on the nose and palate.





The idea of caramel being swirled through your wine might be pretty sickly, but if it features subtly as a tasting note it can bring a luxuriantly developed sweetness to the nose and palate.

Don’t be mistaken, no actual caramel has been magically formed in the bottle. The caramel-like effect is sometimes created by the vines being intentionally infected with botrytis cinerea, aka noble rot — a form of fungus that dries out the grapes, concentrating sugar levels. This practice is commonly used in the production of dessert wines, such as those of the Sauternes and Barsac appellations, or Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Germany or Austria.

SEE: Château d’Yquem, Sauternes, 1er Cru Classé Supérieur 2016 | Château Nairac, Barsac, 2ème Cru Classé, Bordeaux 2005 | Kracher Welschriesling, TBA ‘No 8’ Austria 2001

Botrytis can also alter the mouthfeel of a wine, as it digests sugar and acids and excretes glycerol in its place. So the developed sweetness and silky mouthfeel can lead to an sensorial impression of smooth caramel.

Lastly, this clever noble rot injects an enzyme called laccase, which is responsible for oxidising the wine, producing flavours ranging from apricot and almond to toffee and caramel. It can also induce deep golden hues, so the wine appears caramel coloured, too. Look for it in other oxidised wine styles, such as in tawny Port or Palo Cortado Sherry.

SEE: Graham’s, 30 Year Old Tawny, Port NV | Lustau, Palo Cortado Almacenista Cayetano del Pino, Jerez NV

Another way to create caramel flavours is by the use of oak, because it can appear as a secondary aroma from oak-ageing, along with butterscotch and vanilla. This can particularly be detected in Chardonnays aged in American oak, rather than French oak.

SEE: Astrolabe, Province Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand 2014 | Ramey Wine Cellars, Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, Napa Valley 2012 | Oak Valley, Chardonnay, Elgin, South Africa 2014





The term chalky is usually applied to white wines with high acidity from cool climate terroirs with stony soils, and falls into the mineral category along with notes of flint and slate. Including Chardonnay wines from Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre.

Our ability to perceive these mineral flavours in wine has caused some disagreement between scientists and wine experts, but it is nevertheless widely used at tastings. (If you are struggling, try to imagine licking a piece of chalky rock.)

Sarah Jane Evans MW relates the term chalky to mouthfeel when talking about wines with minerality, describing them as having ‘a taste as if of licking wet stones and often a chalky texture to match’. Read more

This can relate to the astringency of tannins, as the mouth-drying effect can recall the powdery or grainy feeling of chalk. For example a tannic red wine with a drying and lingering finish may be noted for its ‘chalky tannins’.





Chocolate is quite a common flavour and aroma in full-bodied reds from warmer climates, such as southern French Merlot, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Barossa Valley Shiraz. It can be identified in several different guises – milk chocolate, dark chocolate and even cocoa powder. The latter can sometimes be associated with ripe, sweet tannins, providing a descriptor of texture as well as flavour. Barrels that have been heavily toasted, either using an open flame or in an oven, can also lend chocolatey flavours to a wine.





After a traditional-method sparkling wine is disgorged, the liqueur d’expédition is added to create the final dosage. This addition of sugary liquid is used to balance the high acidity levels. With the correct addition, the dosage can accentuate the body of the wine and also give a certain roundness. Too much or too little can lead to a wine that is flabby or one that is too tart.

In recent years there has been a trend towards zero dosage, but it can be difficult to create a balanced wine unless conditions are right. So what do the names on the bottle actually mean in regards to dosage? Brut Nature (0-3g/l of sugar), Extra Brut (0-6g/l), Brut (0-12g/l), Extra-Sec (12-17g/l), Sec (17-32g/l), Demi-Sec (32-50g/l), Doux (50+g/l).





Earthy is a versatile tasting note that can encompass a range of wine flavour profiles; from dry and dusty aromas to tertiary aromas such as wet forest floor, or even farmyard manure odours. Earthy can be seen as belonging to the same flavour profile as notes like wet wool, mineral and tar aromas; all are naturally occurring substances. But they have little in common with fruit, vegetal or floral notes.

If subtle, and well integrated, then earthy can be considered a welcome addition to a wine’s aroma, particularly for more full-bodied reds. These include Italian wines made from the Sangiovese grape, like those from Brunello di Montalcino, and more rustic southern Italian varieties like Primitivo and Aglianico.

Earthy is also a positive thing for some Pinot Noir and Syrah wines, where it can add complexity as a secondary and tertiary aroma.

SEE: Undurraga, TH Pinot Noir, Leyda 2013 | Keermont Syrah, Stellenbosch 2012

If earthy notes veer more towards a farmyard smell, this could be due to Brettanomyces, a wine-altering strain of yeast. Some wine lovers enjoy its effects at low levels, but its presence causes debate.

Earthy notes could also be attributed to the chemical compound geosmin, which occurs naturally in grapes. The name directly translates to ‘earth smell’ in greek.

This same compound is released into the air by newly turned over soil, or a garden after rainfall. In wine, high levels of geosmin generally indicate a fault. Look out for when earthy smells eclipse expected fruit aromas, or tend more towards the smell of wet cardboard — you could have yourself a corked wine.


This term is derived from the French phrase ‘goût de pierre à fusil’, which literally means tasting of flint stone. Flint, flinty or even gunflint are terms used to describe the minerality note that is found in dry, austere white wines, notably Chablis and Sancerre.

If you want to experience what flint smells like, next time you are walking in the South Downs, pick up two pieces of chalk and rub them together. If this isn’t an option, think of wet pebbles.






The main defining factors of honey are its sweetness and its viscosity. Therefore as a tasting note it’s often applied to dessert wines, which are more syrupy in taste and density than other wines.

As honey is made from floral nectar, it has rich and heady aromatic properties that make it a suitable descriptor for late harvest wines. These can include wines made from grapes left to dry out on the vine, or developed by the onset of noble rot (botrytis cinerea) — giving the wines a concentrated aroma and a taste that’s reminiscent of honey.

It’s often found alongside stone fruit and dried fruit notes, most notable in sweet wines from Sauternes. Other examples include Tokaji wines from Hungary, and German Rieslings belonging to the Auslese, Spätlese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese classifications.

Honey is also aligned with complex notes like tobacco and hay as a sign of a wine’s maturity, for honey has a multilayered sweetness that incorporates fructose and floral flavours. Additionally, aged sweet white wines can recall honey in their appearance, as their hues darken over time. Like honey, dessert wines such as Sauternes or Tokaji wines can range from the palest yellow to tawny bronze, depending on the vintage.

As a tasting note, it’s generally understood that the wine contains no actual honey. However, there is evidence that honey was originally used by the Romans to fortify wines, in a process that later came to be known as chaptalisation, when sugar is added to the grapes prior to fermentation. It’s also not to be confused with ‘honey wine’, which is actually mead and is made from fermented honey instead of grapes.




Associated with Syrah, particularly from the northern Rhône, as well as Sangiovese in Tuscany, iodine or blood-like notes are derived from the grape or the terroir rather than the addition of the element itself. Some say iodine aromas are increased if vines are planted closer to the sea as well.

It should be mentioned that when fruit has succumbed to excess rot, the resulting wine may also have iodine or phenol aromas, and in this case it is considered a fault.





Graphite is a common descriptor, especially for fine red wines, signifying notes of pencil lead or a lead-like minerality. Some claim the aromas and flavours come from the wine’s contact with wood during oak maturation. However, others, especially producers in Bierzo and Priorat in Spain, believe that terroir contributes these characters – thus their slate soils provide a graphite taste to the wine. If you are unsure what graphite smells like, try sharpening an HB pencil.






An aroma often found in red wines that have been aged in oak. Either a secondary or a tertiary aroma, it is associated with the winemaker’s influence and a wine’s ageing process rather than a grape’s varietal characteristic or primary aroma.

It is often used as a descriptor in conjunction with vanilla, toast and cedar, which are all associated with the use of oak in red wines. It can also be a savoury characteristic indicative of a wine softening and ageing, losing some of its primary fruit and gaining complexity and depth.





Grilled or raw meat aromas can be found in muscular reds such as northern Rhône Syrah, Toro and Bordeaux. Game is a slightly lighter, more fragrant character that can be found in wines with red fruit characteristics, such as Pinot Noir, Barbaresco, Rioja and Pinotage. It is reminiscent of hung pheasants and ‘farmyard’ aromas, Both meat and game aromas can be amplified over time, so are usually found in more mature bottles of wine, and are considered to be positive (and occasionally defining) characteristics of a particular wine style.

In some cases these characteristics are caused by Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that can easily infect winemaking equipment, particularly the rough interior surface of wooden barrels. In small doses it produces meaty flavours that can benefit the complexity of a wine, although higher levels can can easily spoil the wine with impressions of cheese, rubber and sweat!





This common description can be used to describe both red and white wines, although it is more common with whites. It is a positive attribute that can be associated with the acidity of the wine, but also the aroma; for example slate, gun flint or wet stones.

The use and meaning of minerality is hotly debated and there is no chemical evidence that shows a mineral aroma or flavour is related to a specific mineral or nutrient in the soil or in wine. Therefore, while we use mineral or minerality often as a descriptor it is still quite a mystery as to what causes this sensation.







An oxidative style of winemaking is a controlled process of exposing the wine to oxygen. It enhances flavours deemed desirable – such as nuts or dried fruits – and increases complexity in the wine. The opposing method is a reductive style of winemaking where the amount of oxygen exposure is limited to preserve the wine’s fresh fruit characters. Most wines lie between these two styles, achieving a good balance, but some winemakers prefer a more marked oxidative or reductive style.





Petrol notes in wine are caused by a chemical, trimethyl-dihydronaphthalene (TDN), whose precursors are naturally found in the juice and skins of the Riesling grape.

Generally, aged Rieslings can have a petrol aroma as the precursors in the wine combine over time to form TDN. When this note is found in young wines, it is considered by some, notably Rhône and Australian producer Michel Chapoutier, to be a fault due to over-pressing during harvest.






Imbibing silk might be hard to imagine, and not particularly tempting, but it is certainly a desirable quality in wine.

It is experienced in the mouthfeel of the wine; as you roll it around your palate you get a sense of density and texture. A wine described as silky should feel smooth and luscious in your mouth, with sufficient body to make you aware of its texture, yet elevated enough to avoid being flabby.

In red wines, the term silky is commonly applied to tannins. ‘Silky tannins’ is often a term of praise used for well-aged reds such those of Bordeaux, or a Sangiovese like the Decanter wine legend Biondi Santi, Tenuta il Greppo 1975.

Tannins give red wines structure and texture, and in the ageing process they can evolve from feeling coarse to having a silky quality, as they become more integrated in the wine.

In a similar way, structure can be added to white and sparkling wines by resting them on the lees (dead yeast cells), a process known as sur lie. If macromolecules, imparted by the lees, become well-integrated with the wine they can create a silky feel. A similar effect can be achieved by bâtonnage (stirring the lees).

As a term describing a tannic or yeasty mouthfeel, silky feels more polished than a ‘velvety’ wine, but perhaps not as weighty as a ‘creamy’ wine.

It can also manifest itself in white wines with high levels of glycerin, such as Albariño from Rias Baixas or Vinho Verde. As well as Viognier wines, which are often described as having an oily texture, and this can create a silky sensation in the mouth.






Smoky notes generally come from oak. Normally the intensity of smoky aromas and flavours in a wine will be determined by the toast of the oak (how charred it was), how many times the barrel has been used and how long the wine spends in the barrel. If the wine is put into a new barrel that has had a heavy toast then the likelihood of having smoky notes will increase. This can be desirable if the wine has the structure to handle the oak.

Sometimes heavy toasting and too many new barrels can lead to an overtly smoky wine, which may integrate with time, but can be difficult to assess when the wine is young. Smoke taint can also happen, when forest fires occur between veraison (when the grapes ripen) and harvest time. This has been a problem for winemakers in Canada’s Okanagan Valley, California and throughout Australia.







Steely is a term commonly used to promote fashionable dry white wines, but what does it mean in the mouth? It describes a metallic flavour and a firm mouthfeel. Generally these wines are low in alcohol, high in acidity, with distinguished minerality. In this way it’s aligned with notes like flint and graphite.

Examples include cool climate wines, like Rieslings from Germany, Alsace, Austria or Eden Valley in Australia.

SEE: Malat, Riesling Classic, Kremstal 2015 | Ernst Loosen, Villa Wolf Dry Riesling, Pfalz, Germany 2014 | McWilliam Family, Zeppelin, Eden Valley, 2014 

It’s also associated with Austria’s most widely planted grape variety, Grüner Veltliner, and is often considered a trademark of fine Chardonnay wines from Chablis.

SEE: Steininger, Grand Grü Grüner Veltliner Reserve, Kamptal 2015 | Jean-Marc Brocard, Butteaux, Chablis 1er Cru 2014 | Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis 2014

There is some crossover between metallic and mineral wines, and opinion is divided about whether these flavours are derived directly from the soil, or whether it’s simply an effect created by clean and neutral wines; absent of sweetness or strong fruit flavours, but with a solid acidic structure. In the same vein as mineral wines, steely wines often express floral, green apple or citrus flavours and aromas, rather than sweet fruity notes.

As with tannins in red wines, it’s acidity that changes the mouthfeel of white wines. Steely wines can feel almost hard-edged in the mouth; something that’s usually desirable, rather than a flabby wine, and it should bode well for the ageing potential of the wine too.






Tar may seem an unlikely substance to be evoked by wine, but as with notes of tobacco and petrol it can be an unusual source of pleasure. If expressed in harmony with the other flavours and aromas of the wine, tar can add a pungent edge, the kind to make your nostrils dilate.

It is usually used as a savoury descriptor of red wines; Barolo wines from Piedmont are most commonly ascribed a tar-like quality. They are made from the thick-skinned Nebbiolo grape, and usually have high acidity with no shortage of tannins. Nebbiolo’s bouquet encompasses violet, smoke and rose-like perfumes, with flavours that include truffle, fennel, liquorice and, most famously, tar.

However, as with other distinctive tasting notes, if you have an intense dislike for the smell of asphalt it can be too distracting, and detract from your appreciation of other aromas and flavours in the wine.








Toffee can be by turns a delicious and sickly piece of confectionery, made from a simple mixture of butter and sugar. Toffee in wine tasting notes generally refers to a wisp of burnt sugar flavour.

Toffee is part of the wine lexicon, alongside other burnt or cooked sugary flavours like caramel and butterscotch. Within this group, caramel usually involves added cream, which gives it a richer and smoother tasting profile. Whereas butterscotch and toffee are simply heated sugar and butter, although toffee tastes the most intensely of burnt sweetness because it’s heated for longer, raising the sugar concentration.

You can find hints of this toasted sugar flavour in aged fortified and oxidised wine styles, such as tawny Port. When port is aged in this way, fruity flavours can develop into a nutty and resinous sweetness that can seem toffee-like to the senses.

SEE: Fonseca, 10 year old tawny, Port, Douro, Portugal | Niepoort, Colheita Port, Douro Valley, Portugal 1995

Botrytis cinerea (noble rot) creates sweet oxidised wines by via an enzyme called laccase, as well as by heightening the sugar concentration in the berries. In dessert wines such as those of Sauternes, this can create a range of flavours, from apricot and almond to burnt sugar flavours like caramel and toffee.

SEE: Château Climens, Sauternes, 1er Cru Classé 2016 | Château Rabaud-Promis, Sauternes, Bordeaux 2015

Elsewhere, you might look for hints of toasty toffee flavours in vintage Champagnes, where nutty, honey and lees flavours can become more pronounced in a way that recalls burnt sugar. For example, the rich taste of Krug, Clos du Mesnil, Champagne 1982 encompasses toffee, butterscotch, cream and coffee.






Not your typical aroma or tasting note, but it is used to describe this almost sweet, intriguing plastic quality. It may be a sign of reduction, where in the winemaking, lack of oxygen creates a growth of chemical compounds called mercaptans.

These can be extremely unpleasant, creating notes of rotten eggs, cabbage or struck matches. However, if a balance is achieved in this reductive technique, desirable notes can be created, such as quince, smokiness, peardrop or even vinyl.










Candle wax or beeswax aromas can be common in aged white wines for a number of reasons. Ethyl acetates, a contributor to honey and wax aromas, can be created by yeast during fermentation (common in Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay). However, they can also come from bottle ageing, as is common in older Rieslings; this is due to the breakdown of other components in the wine to create ethyl acetates.

Wax aromas are, however, different from the petrol aromas often found in aged Rieslings – these are caused by another natural and very potent compound, TDN, which can be detected at concentrations of micrograms per litre.



Wet wool

One of the more challenging tasting notes, wet wool describes the aroma of damp and earthy smelling fleece, close to that of lanolin — the fatty substance secreted by sheep’s skin.

In tasting terms, it belongs to the mineral flavour category, joining other peculiar yet precise notes like rubber, barnyard and sweaty saddle. Perhaps the best way to understand wet wool is to experience it first hand by getting hold of a tub of lanolin cream, which is used for cosmetic purposes to moisturise skin. Or you can wear your woolly jumper in the rain, then leave it in a heap to go damp and pungent.

Depending on the wine, wet wool aromas can either be an intentional mark of style, or indicative of a fault. For example, it’s typically encountered in Chenin Blanc wines and can be considered an enjoyable part of their aroma profile.

SEE: David & Nadia, David Chenin blanc, Swartland 2015 | DeMorgenzon, DMZ Chenin Blanc, Western Cape 2016 | Doran Vineyards, Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc, Swartland 2013

Traditional method sparkling white or rosé wines might also express wet wool as secondary aromas, related to sulphur compounds and yeast influences which develop from winemaking processes like fermentation, resting sur lie (on the lees) or bâtonnage (stirring the lees). Traditional method sparkling wines include Champagne, of course, plus Cava and also some UK sparkling wines, as well as others.

SEE: Louis de Sacy, Grand Cru, Champagne NV | Wiston Estate Brut, Blanc de Blancs, East Sussex 2010

As a fault, wet wool aromas could be a sign of lightstrike, aka goût de lumière, resulting from excessive exposure to sun light. Transparent bottles might be attractive to the eye, but they can leave the wine more vulnerable to lightstrike, which is why green or UV resistant bottles are seen as safer by many producers.

Sources: Wine Faults: Causes, Effects, Cures, John Hudelson

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Anson: A shifting role for Bordeaux négociants? – Interview

October 18, 2017 - 11:00pm

Jane Anson interviews Ariane Khaida about becoming head of Duclot merchant house in Bordeaux and her views on what the city's wine trading houses still have to offer amid questions over the current system.

The Quai des Chartrons has sent Bordeaux wine overseas for centuries. Here it is in 1806. Credit: Pierre Lacour / Wiki Commons Media.

‘Good evening gentleman. Good evening Ariane,’ is how Ariane Khaida remembers Thierry Gardinier address a group of more than 100 directors and owners of négociant houses up at Chateau Phelan Ségur last year.

Being the only woman to head up a major Bordeaux négociant was the reason that I was first going to interview Khaida three years ago. And yes I wish that wasn’t worthy of a headline, but France is a country where only 2% of CEO roles go to women (although a new law says they must represent 40% of board members in CAC 40 companies), and yet the Place de Bordeaux somehow manages to slip underneath even that low bar.

At the time she was managing director of Descaves, the third woman in the role after the legendary Madame Jeanne Descaves and Madame France Chauvin. Descaves was founded in 1881 and specialises in the sale of mature Bordeaux, with cellars containing around 100 vintages dating back to 1875. Becoming the next woman at the helm was seen as such a coup that the expectation in Bordeaux was that Khaida would spend the rest of her career there.

But in March 2014, she changed the narrative and left to head up a far more powerful and dynamic name – Duclot. Not the biggest négociant house (that award goes to Castel Frères and Joanne in terms of 2016 export figures) but the most high profile, with the Moueix name standing tall above it. Duclot comprises, besides négociant and online distribution, shops such as Badie and L’Intendant in Bordeaux and La Cave at Galeries Lafayette in Paris as well as offices in New York and LA that are aimed squarely at courting relationships with sommeliers and high-end restaurants.

In retrospect, her move should not have been all that surprising. Khaida moved to Bordeaux from Paris in 2002. I met her soon after I arrived from London in late 2003, and we were in the same tasting group for a while. We talked plenty about our home towns (she’s from a non-winemaking family in the Champagne village of Rilly la Montagne) but I only really learnt about her professional background when we sat down in the stunning glass-walled rooms at the top of Duclot’s new offices for this interview.

It turns out that Khaida can fly Cessnas, is a graduate of one of France’s oldest and most selective engineering schools, and spent five years working at LVMH, including two flying around the world – although sadly not at the controls of her own plane – documenting quality control techniques for sourcing the highest of high end leathers and skins (sorry, but luxury handbags are not for the squeamish) for the Louis Vuitton collection. Her experience there makes her a credible voice in what are turbulent times for négociants.

‘For those who say that the Place de Bordeaux is old-fashioned, or even moribund; I would reply that moment has passed. The people who really understand Bordeaux know this. Today the best négociants are true partners for châteaux. There were many years when only critics’ scores counted and our role was seen as simply moving stock. Today personalisation and adding value is key to luxury wines, and we can bring vision, confidence, brand building. But we need to be working at a level that demonstrates our importance, and we need to be transparent with the châteaux in how we do that’.

On arriving in Bordeaux, she first spend three years with Bruno Borie at Ducru Beaucaillou, helping the château move further into the luxury space in terms of labelling, distribution, marketing. But it was always a role with a time limit (‘in Bordeaux châteaux, the owner is the owner, that’s simply the way it is’) that meant when the opportunity arose to move to Descaves she accepted, shadowing Chauvin for 18 months on the understanding of taking over following her retirement.

‘There were infinite things to learn,’ she says, ‘moving from château-side to a négociant. A typical négociant deals with 200 brands or more, and has to understand the history of each property, the different relationships within them, and what the ambitions are for their wine. All this will affect the dynamics of how to do business with them, and how to find the right outlets and activities for the wine. I was extremely lucky to learn this at Descaves, in a family-style environment with 15 staff. At Duclot we have 200’.

She says her first nine months at Duclot were also about, ‘observing, learning, asking questions. Only then did I begin to take decisions’.

The last time I visited the Duclot offices was in 2011 to interview Jean Moueix. The company was then housed across a warren of offices in the Jardin Public area of suburban Bordeaux. Today it overlooks one of the most beautiful and iconic public squares in the city, Place Rohan, directly next to the town hall and the city’s Saint André cathedral. The building itself has been restored and renovated by architect Marc Barani and looks more like a New York advertising agency than a traditional négociant house. It feels like it is readying itself for the challenge of increasingly disruptive châteaux.

‘As négociants we don’t want to be fighting with châteaux in terms of what stock is on the market, it doesn’t make sense for either side,’ says Khaida, quietly proving why she should not be underestimated. ‘There is an increasing desire to cut margins to third parties (from the traditional 15%), which may be why some châteaux are holding back wine to sell later. I can understand that but it may also lead to them missing out on brand building and visibility. That is our expertise, but to do it we need stocks’.

‘The way international wines work with the Place de Bordeaux has been hugely instructive I believe. Some châteaux and négociants resisted it at first, but the benefits are clear now, and it has been informative for all sides. Estates such as Masseto and Opus One bring reflections and experiences that help Bordeaux. They have extremely careful control of their distribution, and at first we were surprised by how exacting in terms of where we placed their bottles. But they were extremely open, very clear about where they were already being sold to avoid repetition. It is only with partnership that these things can be fully managed – coupling our knowledge of global markets with châteaux own individual strategies. It’s a powerful combination when used correctly’.

If I was a château owner, I’d be listening. But for anyone wondering about the management of Descaves today, Khaida was not succeeded by another woman. The power balance of Bordeaux continues.

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Brancott Estate unveils ‘matrix’ sculpture in vineyard

October 18, 2017 - 5:00pm

New Zealand producer Brancott Estate has revealed the result of its design collaboration with New York-based Studio Dror.

Brancott Estate's 'Under/standing' sculpture in Marlborough created by Dror Studio.

New Zealand wine group Brancott Estate has unveiled a sculpture in its vineyards created by New York-based designer Dror Benshetrit.

Dror’s matrix-like structure in the Brancott Vineyard. Credit: Brancott Estate.

Studio Dror’s eight-metre high sculpture lies in the middle of Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in Marlborough. The sculpture is called ‘Under/standing’.

It is made from 52 individual components that lock together once the matrix-like structure is erected into a standing position; intended to represent the complexity of winemaking and the ‘vineyard’s ongoing transformation’.

It is the latest of several collaborations between wineries and artists and designers.

Dror’s sculpture in among the vines in Brancott Vineyard, Marlborough. Credit: Brancott Estate.

New York-based Studio Dror is led by Tel Aviv-born designer Dror Benshetrit, who has previously been named in the ‘power 200’ of Wallpaper magazine.

He is known for his innovative work with structures; in particular, a structural joint system named QuaDror. He visited Brancott in 2014 to get inspiration for the project.

Limited edition wines have been created to coincide with the sculpture launch. Credit: Brancott Estate.

As part of the collaboration, Brancott’s chief winemaker, Patrick Materman, has created a limited edition wine range named Reflection and including a Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris 2016 blend and a Pinot Noir 2015.

The wines will be available at the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre, via the Brancott Estate Wine Club ( and in New Zealand Travel Retail for NZ$60 for the  Sauvignon $80 for the Pinot Noir.

Brancott is owned by French drinks group Pernod Ricard and was one of the first to produce Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand.

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DWWA winners at Great Western Wines Tasting

October 18, 2017 - 2:59am

A selection of Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 winners will be on show at Great Western Wines' tasting on 2 November 2018

Award-winning wines from the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 (DWWA) will be showcased at the UK retailer Great Western Wines‘ portfolio tasting on 2 November 2017. Winning wines include:

  • Umani Ronchi, Casal di Serra, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Le Marche, Italy, 2016
  • Ottella, Le Creete, Lugana, Lombardy, Italy, 2016
  • Cantine Antonio Caggiano, Béchar, Fiano di Avellino, Campania, Italy, 2016
  • Machherndl, Mitz & Mütz Riesling Federspiel, Wachau, Niederösterreich, Austria, 2012
  • Ascheri, Nirane, Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy, 2016
  • Chivite, Finca de Villetuerta Selección Especial, Navarra, Mainland Spain, Spain, 2014
  • Heartland, Shiraz, Langhorne Creek, South Australia, Australia, 2014

Event details:

2 November 2017, 5.30pm – 9pm
The Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, Bath, BA1 2QH

The post DWWA winners at Great Western Wines Tasting appeared first on Decanter.

Codorníu parent firm agrees to move HQ out of Catalonia – report

October 17, 2017 - 11:00pm

Directors at the holding company of Cava producer Codorníu have reportedly agreed to move their head office address from Catalonia to Rioja as political tension mounts over the region's independence vote. Read more below and see Miquel Hudin's commentary on what independence might mean for the region's winemakers.

Codorníu cellars in Catalonia.

Codorníu holding company Unideco released a statement on Monday (16 October) to announce that its board of directors has agreed to move the Cava maker’s registered office address to Haro in Rioja, according to widespread reports across Spanish media outlets.

The decision was due to ongoing ‘political and legal uncertainty’ in Catalonia following the region’s controversial independence referendum, reported Spanish newspaper El País, quoting directly from the company’s statement.

However, it was not certain that Codorníu would go ahead with the move.

It also clarified that it was not changing anything about its operational structure in Catalonia.

Rival Cava producer Freixenet has also suggested that it could move its headquarters if Catalonia’s government declares independence from Spain.

Protests erupted in Barcelona and across Catalonia on Tuesday 17 October after Spain’s high court ruled to detain two prominent independence proponents, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart.

Wineries, like other business, have been caught up in the uncertainty that has accompanied the present stand-off between Madrid and Catalonia.

There are 10,000 wine grape growers in Catalonia and 853 wine companies, with combined annual sales of 1.6 billion euros, according to the region’s government.

What might independence mean for wine in Catalonia?

Commentary by Miquel Hudin

Catalonia is not Spain’s largest area in terms of production; that would be Castilla la Mancha by a factor of four in terms of export volume.

Catalonia – or Catalunya – makes up around 8% of Spain’s wine exports by volume, with half of this comprised of Cava, based on the latest figures produced by wine industry statistics body OEMV, for 2015.

But, Catalan producers generate about 22% of Spanish wine export revenues, which monetarily puts it on par with Castilla la Mancha.

A loss of this income, which totaled some 648 million euros in 2015, would potentially be a serious blow to Spain.

However, there would be several immediate problems for Catalonia, too. Spain could claim rights to the Cava name, because it is a DO defined by ‘process’ rather than region – even though 95% of Cava wines are made in Penedes, according to the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Producers in Catalonia would also face the prospect of competing in a crowded market outside of Spain and potentially the EU. European Officials have said that the referendum is an internal Spanish issue, but the Commission did say that the vote was not legal under the Spanish Constitution.

There is nothing to say these obstacles are insurmountable but they and others are potential issues if there is to be an independent Republic of Catalunya.

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Hemel-en-Aarde wineries to visit

October 17, 2017 - 9:25am

Explore wineries on the Hermanus wine route in South Africa's Western Cape with Angela Lloyd's top picks...

Newton JohnsonHemel-en-Aarde wineries to visit

One of the joys of the valley is that the wineries lie within close proximity – little more than 20km separates them, and all are accessed from the road linking Hermanus and the wheatland town of Caledon.

The winery buildings themselves are attractive yet modest in conception, allowing the natural beauty of the area to shine and lending a laid-back feeling.

In as little as two days, you can comfortably and enjoyably glean a good idea of the wines produced and the differences between those from the three wards of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde and Hemel-en- Aarde Ridge.

Website is a useful source of tourist information.

Credit: Maggie Nelson/ Decanter

Hamilton-Russell Vineyards

Hamilton Russel vineyards

Hamilton-Russell Vineyards grew in reputation from its first vintage in 1981. Peter Finlayson, its first winemaker, also recognised the valley’s potential for the Burgundian duo, and this was confirmed when the 1986 Pinot Noir won a local competition at which Paul Bouchard (of Bouchard Aîné) was a judge.

From the centre of Hermanus to Hamilton Russell Vineyards is roughly 8km, and it‘s best to set off after rush hour. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that established Hemel-en-Aarde’s reputation are a good launching pad for the day. Also excellent are the estate’s peppery extra virgin olive oil and fynbos honey.

La Vierge

A few bends further up the valley finds La Vierge, where Gerhard Smith, with several years’ experience in New Zealand’s Wairarapa region, brings Pinot expertise to the four versions he produces. These can be enjoyed on the verandah with spectacular views of the nearby mountains and sea.

Bouchard Finlayson

Bouchard Finlayson.

In 1989, Finlayson assembled a group of shareholders, later to include Bouchard himself, to start Bouchard Finlayson, on a site just above his former employer.

While pristine fynbos with indigenous vegetation covers most of the property (guided walks with a botanist are offered), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the focus in the vineyards, though like others, Finlayson ventured beyond: his Hannibal blend, featuring Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera, offers an intriguing diversion.

Ataraxia Wines

Before wending your way slowly down the valley, stop to taste Kevin Grant’s Ataraxia Wines in his eye-catching Wine Lounge: an art-filled chapel built in keeping with the vernacular Overberg style.

Hannes Storm

Alongside Bouchard and Grant, Hannes Storm is another Burgundy enthusiast to start his own winery after being schooled in Hemel-en-Aarde’s possibilities at Hamilton-Russell. Open by appointment only.

Newton Johnson

Newton Johnson

Others have arrived in the valley, setting up their own cellars: Newton Johnson was soon acknowledged, both locally and internationally, in particular for its Pinot Noir, but also for quality across its range.

Founder and Pinot devotee Dave Johnson, with wife Felicity (née Newton), bought their current property in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley in 2000, establishing the vineyards the following year.
Johnson chose a higher altitude site in the belief that it offers greater maritime influence and more complex soil profiles.

Sea-foragers, the Newton Johnsons found a perfect seafood partner in Albariño, producing a South African first in 2013.

Restless River

Craig and Anne Wessels have shown Cabernet Sauvignon can be a success at Restless River, as well as the excellent Chardonnay they’ve made for some years.



Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin, high up on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge at Creation, have ventured into Rhône territory with fresh, elegant Viognier, Syrah and Grenache.

Alheit Vineyards

Chris and Suzaan Alheit’s Alheit Vineyards (open by special arrangement only) new Hemelrand Vine Garden, a field blend of Roussanne, Chenin, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Muscat de Frontignan, is destined to become as acclaimed as their Chenins from other parts of the Cape.

When to go

Today it is a thriving tourist resort, hosting annual events such as Hermanus Fynarts Festival, 10 days of music, wine and art – many famous South African artists lived and worked here – and a whale festival held annually during spring when the much-loved southern right whales return to Walker Bay to give birth.

With so many diverse pursuits and wines located in such beautiful surroundings, visitors to Hermanus and Hemel-en-Aarde are spoiled for choice.

Read Angela Lloyd’s full travel guide to Hamel-en-Aarde in teh November 2017 issue of Decanter magazine, on sale now. Subscribe to Decanter here More travel guides:


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Latest on wildfires in California wine country

October 16, 2017 - 11:00pm

See the latest information on the California wildfires and read Liza B. Zimmerman's report on the impact on communities.

High winds enabled flames to engulf whole neighbourhoods.Update on the wildfires in California wine country At a glance: 

Figures updated on 17 October

  • The death toll reached 41 on Monday 16 October, said state fire service Cal Fire.
  • 11,000 firefighters were still fighting fires, but significant progress had been made.
  • 40,000 people remained evacuated, with an estimated 5,700 properties destroyed and 214,000 acres of land burned.

Thousands of firefighters from several US states have joined the battle. Credit: George Rose in Sonoma County.

  • Wine associations said that their first concern was naturally for the welfare of residents and neighbours. But Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) said that 20 of its members reported damage to property. It earlier reported that five wineries suffered ‘total or very significant losses’.
  • For perspective, the California Wine Institute said on Monday that fewer than 10 out of 1,200 wineries across Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties had been ‘destroyed or heavily damaged’. These three areas represent 12% of California’s total wine grape production.
  • 90% of the Napa and Sonoma 2017 harvest had been picked prior to the fires, and 75% of Mendocino’s harvest was picked. Some Cabernet Sauvignon was still on the vines, although there was hope that its thick skin would help to protect from smoke taint.

Signorello Estate saw its winery burned to the ground. Ray Signorello Jr said that all staff were safe, as was the 2017 and 2016 vintage, and has vowed to rebuild. Read a full interview on Credit: Signorello Estate.

Report from Liza B. Zimmerman in California:

16 October

The real tragedy of the situation is one of human loss and displacement, as firefighters have justifiably focused on saving lives rather than property.

Many wine country workers have lost homes and possessions to the fire and don’t have any insurance as renters and migrant workers.

Prior to when multiple fires broke out about a week ago, there was already a premium on affordable  housing where wine country workers lived and the situation is only likely to get worse.

It has been compared to the 1991 Oakland fires which drastically diminished the amount of affordable housing as residents, and new buyers, choose to build expensive mini-mansions after the devastation.

Mark Vernon, the CEO of Ridge Vineyards, which has wineries in Santa Cruz and the North Bay, said that he woke up to fires burning in Napa County last Sunday. He suspects that they may have been caused by downed power lines.

At Darioush Winery on the Silverado Trail, president Dan de Polo said that the family owners of the property who were on the estate when the fires broke are all safe.

He added that he has since tasted through the wines in tank and determined them to all be stable and added that the real tragedy is about human displacement.

Next door, Signorello Estate saw its winery building burned to rubble, although its 2017 juice and 2016 vintage in barrel survived unscathed, as did all staff.

As many hotels and restaurants were damaged or shuttered this past week, the bulk of visitors headed south to destinations such as the Monterey Peninsula because their visits had been cancelled in Napa and Sonoma.

The air and smoke was so bad in the city of San Francisco on Thursday that my head was covered in ash after mailing a letter.

Public buses in San Francisco were full of ash and nightstand tables, left by open windows, were covered in soot for most of last week. San Francisco is approximately 80 kilometres from Santa Rosa, the one of the epicentres of the fire.

There was a determination to carry on among producers. ‘All we want to do is get back to work,’ said de Polo. In terms of the long-term outlook, ‘it is way too early to determine the economic impact’, said Paul Leary, president of Blackbird Vineyards.

How you can help:

Round-up as of 16 October, 9am UK time
  • The death toll from the California wildfires rose to 31 by Friday morning (13 October), according to Cal Fire, the state fire service. LA Times reported on Sunday 15 October that 40 people had died, including elderly citizens as well as at least one teenager. An estimated 5,700 structures have been destroyed.
  • Eleven thousand firefighters were still tackling blazes across Northern California, including crews from neighbouring states. High winds were restricting containment efforts, although three fires had been fully contained by Friday and there were reports of good progress in general by Sunday, said Cal Fire. Still, 75,000 people remained evacuated.
  • For most of last week, there have been mass power outages, evacuations, road closures and a lack of mobile phone network, which have hampered relief efforts. Nearly 218,000 acres burned, according to Cal Fire.
  • Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) said on Thursday (12 October) that five wineries owned by members have suffered ‘total or very significant losses’, with at least 11 members reporting some damage to winery buildings and vineyards. Vines themselves don’t burn easily, however.
  • NVV emphasised that its first concern was for the welfare of residents and neighbours. An economic assessment of damage was not possible at this stage, it said. However, it added on Friday that, having spoken to 215 members, including most of those in the high risk areas, it believed that 20 wineries had suffered some form of damage.
  • As the week has gone on, first-hand accounts of the fire have started to emerge. Ray Signorello, of Signorello Estate on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley, told that his winery building was completely destroyed by a ‘tornado’ of fire that the winemaking team nevertheless tried to fight. His barrel room, holding the 2016 vintage, survived and so did the vats holding the 2017 vintage, with the vineyards also largely untouched. All 25 staff were safe and well. Read more of our interview with Signorello on soon.

A map of the fires burning near to Napa and Sonoma vineyards. Credit: Cal Fire / Google Maps.

  • Many producers were unable to reach their properties, leaving them hoping for the best. Carole Meredith was one of those producers evacuated from the Mt Veeder area. She told that she hasn’t known fires this bad in the Napa and Sonoma region since 1964.
  • In the UK, Roberson wine has launched a JustGiving page in an attempt to raise £10,000 for California fire victims. Money will go to the Napa Valley Community Foundation and the Sonoma County Resilience Fund.
  • Most of the grapes for the 2017 vintage in Northern California had already been harvested before the fires began.
  • Nancy Bialek, executive director of the Stags Leap District Association, reported on the situation in her area: ‘Several homes in the higher elevation of the Stags Leap District were destroyed; residents were evacuated looking at a frightening wall of fire. Our hearts go out to our neighbours who have lost so much.’ She added that no wineries in that area had reported significant damage. ‘Compared to our neighbours in Soda Canyon and Atlas Creek we feel very fortunate.’
  • Winery associations have warned against speculation as to the extent of damage, with several rumours circulating.

Reporting by Chris Mercer

The update below was published on 12 October at 9am UK time. Written by John Stimpfig. 

Update: California fires latest

The death toll caused by the California wildfires had risen to 23 by Thursday morning (12 October) with hundreds more people still reported as missing as flames continued to devastate parts of Northern California, according to the latest report by CNN.

Fires were still raging in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, with higher winds predicted over the next few days making containment even more hazardous and difficult.

In Sonoma County alone more than 180 people are still reported missing. Local authorities therefore expect the death toll to rise.

The fires began on Sunday evening driven by high winds and dry conditions and have so far destroyed at least 3,5000 homes and businesses, according to Cal Fire, the state’s fire service. Flames have also laid waste to vineyards and wineries. Cal Fire said on Wednesday (11 October) that 170,000 acres of land have been burned. Its crews were struggling to contain many of the fires, its data showed.

As reported on, Signorello Estate has been burned to the ground, as well as Paradise Ridge. In addition, the Napa Valley Vintners has received preliminary reports that at least four physical wineries belonging to NVV members have suffered total or very significant losses due to the fire. At least nine other members reported damage to their winery, outbuildings or surrounding vineyards.

However, Napa Valley Vintners has yet to hear from some members in the most vulnerable areas of the valley including along the Silverado Trail, in Calistoga, and in the Mt Veeder/Patrick Road/Henry Road areas. Other wineries have not been able to access their properties and do not know what condition they are in.

The Valley has seen power outages and it has not been easy to communicate via email, text or phone. This situation is likely to continue for the next 24 to 48 hours, said a NVV spokesperson.

Although it is too soon to know the impact on the vintage overall, Napa Valley Vintners estimate about 90 percent of the grapes had been harvested. Those remaining are almost entirely Cabernet Sauvignon, which should have minimal damage from smoke taint, thanks to the thick skin.

The Napa Valley Vintners is working with local agencies to help coordinate relief and recovery efforts. It has also reactivated the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund for anyone wishing to make donations. The fund was first set up in 2014 after the South Napa earthquake.

In spite of challenging communication problems in the wake of the fires, the California Wine Institute has also provided details of a number of websites where people can donate funds and where those affected can receive much needed assistance.

Red Cross


Mendocino County Disaster Fund

Napa County

Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund  

Tubbs Fire Safety Check-in Facebook page  

Drop-off location – Napa Valley College Gym (2277 Napa Vallejo Highway)

Sonoma County

SHARE Sonoma County has created temporary home sharing for those who have lost their housing due to the recent fires: SHAREFire@petalumapeople.orgor 707-765-8488, ext. 126

Redwood Empire Food Bank:

Drop off location – Santa Rosa, bring donations to the Veterans Memorial Building and Hall (1351 Maple Avenue)

Drop-off location – Petaluma, bring supplies to the Petaluma Community Center (320 N. McDowell Boulevard) or the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds (175 Fairgrounds Drive)

Yuba County

Drop off location – Yuba County, drop-off donations of water, food, and diapers can be left at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds Evacuation Center (442 Franklin Avenue, Yuba City)

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Destroyed Signorello winery owner: ‘We need to get back in business’

October 16, 2017 - 8:34am

Ray Signorello Jr has vowed to rebuild after losing his entire winery building in the deadly fires that have swept across North California in the past week.

Flames engulf Signorello Winery in Napa Valley. No staff or family members were injured.

Signorello Estate’s winery, on Napa‘s Silverado Trail, was reduced to rubble by what the winemaking team described as a ‘tornado of fire’.

Wildfires in California wine country have so far left at least 40 people dead. Many homes have been destroyed and the state fire service said that 75,000 had been evacuated by Sunday 15 October.

Signorello was one of around 20 wineries and vineyards in the Napa Valley area that have been damaged to some extent.


The wreckage of the winery building at Signorello Estate. Credit: Charlotte Milan / Signorello.

‘I was away at the time,’ said Ray Signorello Jr. ‘My wife saw the fires on the hillside. There was a frantic phone call at  around 10:45pm and she grabbed some stuff and ran out of there. Fortunately, my two young daughters were with me.

‘My winemaker and team tried to fight [the fire], but the wind was so strong it was like a tornado of fire travelling at 50mph. The whole area was evacuated.’

No one was allowed back until Wednesday and Napa Valley Vintners struggled to contact some winery owners in the Silverado Trail.

‘I had already programmed myself to see it,’ said Signorello of the ruins that lay where his winery stood less than a week earlier.

Signorello Estate saw its winery burned to the ground. Ray Signorello Jr said that all staff were safe, as was the 2017 and 2016 vintage, and has vowed to rebuild. Credit: Charlotte Milan / Signorello.

‘But it’s very sad. There’s over 30 years of history there. I lost my father and mother in the 1990s and they were both part of it. I remember when we were all there together.’

Also lost was Signorello’s personal wine cellar. ‘I had a fairly expensive cellar of top wines from Europe and around the world,’ he said.

However, Signorello said that he was hugely relieved to discover that all staff were safe and well.

His 2017 vintage also survived in the estate’s tank farm, with grapes already processed following an early vintage, and the 2016 vintage in barrel was also intact after a close shave. ‘The fire came right up to the barrel cellar and stopped.’

Now, he wants to get on with rebuilding.

‘We need to get back in business,’ he said, adding that he would seek office space to rent for staff. The winemaking team is likely to work a portacabin on-site.

‘I just need to get an architect and a builder. It might take me two years to rebuild.’

Full details of the damage to wineries was still emerging on Monday 16 October.

Fire also hit wineries in the Mt Veeder area. Mayacamas Vineyards reported one building had been destroyed, but its winery survived.

Nearby, Carole Meredith, of  Lagier Meredith, told that ‘some vines have been burned’. It was too soon to say more, mainly because the estate was still within the evacuation zone on Monday morning (16 October), but she said that her house was still standing.

‘We built it with fire in mind. All the exterior surfaces are ignition-resistant; there’s a concrete tile roof, stucco walls, concrete terrace [and] metal terrace railing.’

Meredith described the fires as the worst in the Napa and Sonoma areas since 1964.

Read the latest updates on the California wildfires

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Haut-Bailly owner makes ‘officer’ grade on French honours list

October 16, 2017 - 6:00am

Robert G Wilmers, owner of Château Haut-Bailly in Pessac Léognan since 1998 and chairman of M&T Bank Corporation in the US, has been awarded one of France’s highest civilian honours.

Bob Wilmers (right) receives his 'officer' medal from Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé.

Bob Wilmers, the American owner of Château Haut-Bailly, was awarded ‘officer’ status in France’s Legion of Honour system.

France’s Légion d’Honneur merit system was originally devised by Napoleon Bonaparte as a way of rewarding civilians as well as soldiers.

Several other Americans are already on France’s honours list, including Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and Colin Powell. Wilmers was given the award by Bordeaux mayor and former French prime minister Alain Juppé at a ceremony at Haut-Bailly.

Besides his links to the French wine industry, Wilmers was recognised in particular for his charitable work that spans both France and the United States, including the non-profit Partner University Fund (PUF) that is a collaboration between the French government, American private donors and the French-American Cultural Exchange foundation.

PUF has allocated funds to over 97 universities and research institutes in both countries, allowing them to collaborate on more than 87 projects in science and the humanities. More than 100 students each year have benefited from this exchange programme since it was established in 2009.

Wilmers is also chairman of the Alliance Française in New York.

On collecting the award, Wilmers told the assembled crowd of politicians, négociants and local château owners of his early trips to Biarritz with his parents as a child, and his later visits to Paris and Bordeaux, ‘when I began to uncover the true beauty of your country; a beauty that I pay homage to today’.

‘French influence is present in some of America’s finest restaurants from Chez Panisse in California to Le Bernardin in New York,’ said Wilmers. ‘France and the United States are also linked not only by civilization, but by attacks on that civilization, from the Boston bombing to the Bataclan atrocities.’

Several wine world names have previously been added to France’s honours list.

The late Bordeaux professor Denis Dubourdieu, responsible for many advances in wine knowledge in the 20th and 21st centuries, was made a chevalier in the Légion d’Honneur system.

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Jefford on Monday: The Tuscan Original

October 16, 2017 - 1:02am

Andrew Jefford discovers a different way of doing things at Fattoria La Vialla.

Pressing grapes for Vin Santo at La Vialla.

How might you run a wine estate in a comprehensive biodynamic spririt, rather than just producing wine from BD-grown grapes?  How do you create success in a less-than-fashionable part of large wine region?  And how could you turn a modern wine farm into a source of intensive local employment, rather than just another lean and lonely wine enterprise?

I recently visited a wine farm which has managed to find answers to all three questions.  It may also be the most innovative and original wine estate I have ever visited.

It’s called Fattoria La Vialla, and you’ll find it close to Arezzo in the Chianti region of Colli Aretini.  The story began almost 40 years ago, when textile entrepreneur Piero Lo Franco and his wife Giuliana bought a run-down house in the countryside because they wanted their three sons to be close to nature in the holidays.  The end of the mezzadria (sharecropping) system in Tuscany in the 1960s, though unquestionably a social advance and long overdue, had also drained the land of the labour which rendered it so astonishingly productive during the many preceding centuries; two decades later the woods and hills were full of tiny, empty, broken-down farms.  What began as a hobby for the couple became a kind of vocation: they bought more land, which included more ruined farmhouses; they began to farm vines and olives, and restore the houses in a modest though sensitive spirit.  After a decade of this, Piero Lo Franco called his sons together and talked to them.  “He told us,” remembers second son Antonio, “that he wanted to change his job and go into the fields.  He asked us if we would be ready to participate in this project.  We were very serious and a little bit worried.”  No wonder: they were 20, 18 and 13 at the time.  But they said yes — and the family is still a working unit. Antonio, his elder brother Gianni and younger brother Bandino share their roles and “do everything together”.

The three brothers. Credit: La Vialla / Franco Firera.

Piero was convinced that he wanted to run his farm organically (indeed he now feels that any other form of agriculture should be outlawed), and he also cherished an ideal of self-sufficiency at a time when these were not yet fashionable concepts.  When the family learned about biodynamics, it was an instant fit; they worked with the French biodynamic pioneer François Bouchet until his death in 2005.  BD is practiced with great seriousness and sincerity here: the family buried 1,800 cow horns last year to make preparation 500, for example.  All of their vineyards (which in addition to the 120 ha at the home base in Tuscany also now includes 240 ha in other regions – San Gimignano, Maremma, Oltrepò Pavese, Marche, Puglia and Sicily) are biodynamic – as indeed are all their other farming activities.

One aspect of Rudolf Steiner’s teachings which is often ignored by winegrowers, albeit of necessity, is that each farm should be self-contained and self-sustaining.  “In reality,” Steiner said in his second Koberwitz lecture (10.6.1924), “every farm ought to aspire to this state of being a self-contained entity.”  He did go on to recognise that this “cannot be achieved completely, but it needs to be approached.”  The Lo Franco family had the land, and the will, to try to do this.

Burying cow horns with Ruben Barbuzza (right) and Maurizio Giustini. Credit: La Vialla / Hetty Van Oijen.

They’re biodynamic farmers and producers not just of grape and wine, but of olives and olive oil (30,000 trees); of cereals, pasta and bread (baked in wooden ovens using wood from their own forests); of 1,300 sheep whose Pecorino cheese is rubbed in the residues from the olive press; of chickens and eggs and biscuits and cakes; of honey, from around 100 hives in the forest; and of fruits and vegetables which, once grown, they bottle and preserve or turn into sauces which are also bottled and preserved, all on the estate.  They also have their own phyto-purification plant and solar farm, and the whole enterprise is carbon neutral.  But I still haven’t got to the most extraordinary bit of all.

In the early years, Piero Lo Franco tried selling locally, in Tuscany, and then nationally, in Italy.  It was a flop: no one wanted organic wine in Italy back then, and this wasn’t a chic aristocratic domain in the posh part of Tuscany.  But he’d also opened the farms as an agriturismo, inviting guests to stay in the restored farmhouses in the woods.  They came – mostly from Northern Europe, from Germany, Holland, Belgium, the UK.

The Germans in particular already treasured the organic ideal, and said they’d like to buy these organic wines and cheeses and pasta and sauces back home in Germany.  So young Gianni (who’d only had his driving licence for a month) and Antonio Lo Franco hitched a trailer to the back of a battered Renault Espace and piled car and trailer full of La Vialla foods and wines, and set about delivering personally to customers in Munich and Stuttgart.  “The customers were so happy to have our visits,” remembers Gianni, “that we can home full of enthusiasm to do that for the future.”  Which, thirty years later, they still do: everything is still sold directly, often via beautiful hampers with all the different items impeccably wrapped and packed in biodynamic straw.  They have 10,000 direct-delivery clients in Germany alone.

La Vialla’s final originality lies in its unforgettable presentation and communications.  To start with, everything the farm did from wine labels down was written out in the rounded handwriting of an architect friend of the family, Felice Giancarlo.  They later came to develop their own typeface based on his handwriting, and issue ‘books’ twice a year in three languages (English, German and Dutch), full of pictures, stories and recipes as well as elaborate product descriptions, all of them still written by Giuliana and Piero Lo Franco.  They send out little notes, letters, cds, all beautifully wrapped, finished and printed.  It looks almost childlike at first glance.  What all of this succeeds in communicating and selling is, in a way, a dream of Italy for northerners – the simple, sensual Italy Goethe fell in love with and alluded to in the poem ‘Kennst du das Land?’ from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.  It also incarnates a timeless, polycultural, hand-crafted Italy that has often now been lost, but the Lo Franco family has somehow managed to … well, is it save it or recreate it?  I’m not quite sure, but it works.

The team includes four full-time graphic designers and three full-time translators, and provides employment for 160 people, of 25 nationalities, mostly near a city still hard hit by the collapse of its traditional goldsmithing trade.  In high summer, at the heart of the farm, the scene is like a real-life Smurf village, even down to the white hats which all the food preparers are wearing.  Another Lo Franco policy, by the way, was never to hire “a chef”, with all that that implies.  All the cooking and food preparation is done in a massaia (‘housewifely’ or ‘home-cooking’) spirit.

Cynics might speculate at this point that the wines a) aren’t very good, and b) cost a lot on money to pay for all of this.  Neither is true.  The range is huge, and there are some excellent wines among them (see my notes below).  You don’t have to take my word for it, though.  In the last two editions of the Decanter World Wine Awards, La Vialla has won two ‘Platinum Best in Category’ awards: Best Sweet Tuscan in 2017 (for its 2010 Vin Santo Occhio di Pernice) and White Tuscany IGT over £15 (for its 2014 Barricato Bianco).  It also won separate Vin Santo golds in both editions of the competition, too.

Prices?  In fact if you were to buy the Barricato Bianco in a six-pack in the UK by direct mail order from Italy, it would work out at no more than £9.85 per bottle (it’s €7.90 at the estate), while I truly wonder if there is a better authentically made biodynamic wine available anywhere for its price than the 2015 Casa Conforto Chianti Superiore DOCG, which is available as a six-pack in the UK for £7.70 per bottle by direct mail-order, and which can be bought from the farm itself for €5.90.

The wine world is full of rapacious pricing, colossal pretentions and marketing deceptions.  But not here.

A taste of La Vialla

Strong points of the La Vialla range include many innovative sparkling wines and many successful cloudy (unfiltered) wines made with low sulphur levels, though not yet zero-sulphur wines.  The Vin Santo wines are exemplary.  Discerning the ‘energy’, ‘limpidity’ and ‘purity’ often ascribed to successful biodynamic wines is a subjective matter, but you might well find this in the fresh, poised reds.  There are of course no artificial additives or ‘adjustments’, and the Lo Franco family are great believers in the health benefits of polyphenols, so the reds are left as long as might be appropriately possible with their skins.  Less prominent use of oak on some of the more ambitious wines would be welcome, but winemaking (under the thoughtful and resourceful winemaker Marco Cervellera) is already heading that way.

Sparkling wines

Lo Chiffón Spumante 2015

An unfiltered spumante still containing its yeast deposits which you can either drink in limpid form by standing it up for a while, or in cloudy form (favoured at La Vialla) by inverting the bottle first.  The blend combines 40 per cent each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the balance from Trebbiano.  It has a soft mousse, scents of orchard fruits and sliced white mushroom.  The flavours are very dry and closer to grape than apple, balanced by a softly yeasty bite.   88

Cuvée No 2 2012

A true traditional-method sparkler made from Pinot Nero grapes grown in Otrepò Pavese, and aged for 41 months on its lees; I tasted both a cloudy, unfiltered version and a limpid, filtered version.  I preferred the latter: clean, fine-spun spring flower and apple scents, with a poised, fresh flavour in which softer pear and bright lemon joins the apple.  89

White wines

Torbolino, Vino Bianco da Tavola 2016

This attractive and attractively priced blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Traminer, made from fruit grown in various small parcels on the La Vialla estate, has lots of clean, pretty aromatic lift: lemon and orange, with musky spice.  On the palate, the wine is bright and perfumed, yet has the depth and structure to work at table.  Zesty bitter orange on the finish.  There is also an unfiltered version which is inevitably yeastier, with less pure fruit aromatics.   90

Barricato Bianco, Bianco da Toscana IGT 2015

The Barricato Bianco began as a blend of selected Chardonnay and Malvasia fermented in 500-l barrels, and given lees stirring for 10 months; since 2014, though, the Malvasia has been replaced by Viognier.  Cloudy and full gold in colour, with complex, creamy, lush, rich flower-blossom scents.  On the palate, it is mellow, broad-beamed, nutty and rich, though not sweet in any way: a satisfying food white with plenty of intricate aromatic appeal.   90

Red wines

Casa Conforto, Chianti Superiore DOCG 2015

This blend of Sangiovese with 10% Canaiolo is very successful in 2015 and perfect now: perfumed black and red fruits with both spicy and savoury notes, and a vivid, deep palate moving from juicy sweet fruits at it opens to something a little more grippy and austere at the end.  Brilliant refreshment with complexity: an amazing buy for the €5.90 it costs at the estate.  91

Riserva, Casa Conforto, Chianti Superiore DOCG 2013

This blend for the Riserva level is 80% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo (aged in large Slavonian oak) with 10% Cabernet (aged in barriques).  More complex aromatically, with bergamot perfumes joining the red and black fruits; complex and intense on the palate, too, with no visible oak but ample savoury, woodland complexities to joint and structure the fruit.  92

LeccioMoro, Montecucco DOC 2015

The blend this time is Sangiovese with 10% Merlot, grown on clay-rich soils in the small DOC of Montecucco, close to Brunello but running on into the Upper Maremma.  It’s a deeper, more generous wine with rich, sensual plum scents and a savoury, earthy, amply expressive palate with plenty of textured fullness.  Another sure-fire BD bargain for €6 at the estate or £8.50 in the UK by mail-order.  91

Podere La Casotta, Rosso di Toscano IGT 2013

An intriguing and unique red wine made from five indigenous Tuscan varieties: Pugnitello (30%), Malvasia Nera (30%), Aleatico (20%), Colorino (10%) and Sangiovese (10%).  The Pugnitello and Colorino are fermented normally, then mixed with the other varieties after up to three months’ passito drying.  Further fermentation follows, followed by 18 months in mostly old barriques, six months after blending in concrete, then a further year in bottle.  Saturated dark black-red in colour, with a fascinating scent of sweet plums and prunes mingled with tar, warm attic dust and vanilla tobacco leaf.  The palate is deep, rich, exotic, almost explosive, with ample wild black fruits and surprisingly vivid acidity; there’s something a little tarrier on the finish.  Characterful, if a hard wine to place in a blind tasting.  90

Vin Santo

Occhio di Pernice, Vin Santo DOC 2010

La Vialla produces a a normal, light-walnut-coloured Vin Santo made from 70% Malvasia and 30% Trebbiano, but this ‘partridge-eye’ Vin Santo is made from a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Trebbiano, dried between harvest and Christmas during which the grapes are attacked by noble rot.  The fruit is then softly pressed and both fermented and aged (for three years) in tiny 97-litre caratelli barrels.  The wine is russet-hued, with scent of caramel, apple and smoky root spices.  On the palate, it is rich, deep, searching, vivid and tangy; the caramel now has an intriguing bitter-edged complexity.   92 

Occhio di Pernice Riserva, Vin Santo DOC 2009

The Reserva version is made from 90% Sangiovese blended this time with 10% Malvasia and not Trebbiano, and the ageing period is longer.  Lingering, refined, elegant aromas which evoke red cherry fruits and fine moist vanilla pods with just a little Christmas spice.  The palate is long, seamless and much less caramel-led than the normale, the red fruits now honeyed, finely detailed yet seamless, wealthy yet graceful and almost floating.  Perfect afternoon sipping.  93

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