Wednesday Wines – Episode 171 – The Ultimate Mixed Bag!

This week I have trawled through over 160000 words of notes to pick out some remarkable wines that have slipped through the cracks this year. These are all fantastic creations; while some are brand new and yet to be released, others are already on the shelves! Happy drinking. 

A legendary pair of wines from Domaine de la Chapelle-Hermitage, Northern Rhône, France

The press release – The Frey family is proud to strengthen its partnership with La Place de Bordeaux. Starting from September 2023, La Chapelle and Le Chevalier de Sterimberg will be entrusted to a select group of Bordeaux negociants and courtiers.

First, some fascinating history – In the 13th Century, Chevalier Henri-Gaspard de Sterimberg settled in the hills around Tain l’Hermitage, after visiting the court of King Louis VIII Le Lion and receiving authorisation from Blanche de Castille. Back from the crusades against the Albigensians, full of honour and battle-weary, he wished to retreat as a hermit, to find calm and serenity; hence the name was given to the Hermitage appellation. Now a hermit, the knight raised a small chapel and planted vines.  Since then, La Chapelle has endured for many centuries. Since 1919, on these steep, stony hillsides where only the hand of man can intervene, the Jaboulet family and then the Frey family have succeeded one another in cultivating the vines of this white Hermitage, which proudly bears the name of its creator.

2021 Hermitage, Le Chevalier de Sterimberg, Domaine de La Chapelle-Hermitage

Made from 100 % Marsanne, hand-harvested from the Rocoules and Murets lieu dits, whole-bunch-pressed and fermented in natural cement concrete eggs and a few demi-muids, there is little technique used in the production of this intriguing wine, preferring to let the fruit do the talking. This lack of apparent interference allows the vineyard to sing, and the palate weight and flavour intensity are entirely derived from its pristine lees. Domaine de La Chapelle-Hermitage has been certified organic since 2016 and cultivated according to biodynamic principles since 2018, and perhaps these efforts are entirely responsible for the clarity, direction and resonance of the flavours in this wine. Initially quiet and introspective, it grows in the glass over a couple of hours, blossoming into a silky, sensual wine with faint green highlights under a demure white peach-themed mid-palate. This is not a rich, full, tropical wine, but a long, soothing, refined creation and the acid line, which starts the second the wine hits the palate and then remains there, pitoned onto your tastes buds, forms the high tensile framework for this unhurried Marsanne to cast its spell.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2024 – 2035)

2021 Hermitage, La Chapelle, Domaine de La Chapelle-Hermitage

La Chapelle is a blend of the great terroirs of Western Hermitage. The granitic part, at Les Bessards and Varogne, gives rise to soils where the bedrock emerges. The pebble soils are found on the highest terraces, Méal and Rocoules, and vine age ranges from 27 – 66 years old.  The winemaking practices are timeless, with hand-harvesting followed by sorting, indigenous fermentation and a two-week post-fermentation maceration. The wine is then matured for 12 months in French oak barrels, 15% of which are new, and in natural cement concrete eggs. With a resulting alcohol level of 13.5%, this is a fit, nervy, refreshing wine that belies its noble origins. Deep purple in hue, peppery and blackberry-soaked on the nose and exceptionally sleek on the palate, this is a highly polished and remarkably composed La Chapelle. There is no prominent muscle or rusticity, preferring to show the most civilised and genial side of the Syrah grape. And there is more to come. While La Chapelle, like its sibling Le Chevalier de Sterimberg, is fascinatingly calm and controlled, there is a distant storm brewing in this wine. It feels as if the passage of time will allow it to unfurl and unleash stern earth and rock characters upon which layers of red and black fruit will interlace to form a silky, enchanting, resonant wine. I cannot remember tasting such a reflective young La Chapelle, and in a world that seems to be making ever-bigger and more structured red wines, this is one of the year’s most honed and regal releases.  19+/20 (Drink 2030 – 2045)

A Tuscan white at the top of its game

2021 Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia, Tuscany, Italy (£45.00, www.vinvm.co.uk)

One always has to wait a while for this wine to find its way onto the market after the initial flurry of wine broker activity, but I hope it will do so soon because this is one of the most sophisticated PaGs I have ever tasted. In fact, it is drinking rather nicely already with none the theatricality of bygone vintages nor any of the ponderous, demanding characteristics of some of the heavier, food-craving wines of the past. This is a civilised, hauntingly graceful and amazingly complex wine, which allows each of its component grape varieties the time and space to greet the drinker. This welcome restraint brings a new level of allure to Poggio alle Gazze, making it a must-buy for fans of Italian white wines. I cannot think of another vintage of this wine that will please many diverse palates with its finely balanced flavours.  18.5/20 (Drink now – 2026)

Two Impressive Rosés from www.finewinedirect.co.uk 

2022 Château Beaulieu, Cuvée Alexandre, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence (£18.95)

I know this wine well, having followed it for many years, and I cannot remember a more immediately delicious vintage than this delightful 2022. Lovely and pure with superb ‘white wine freshness’ and impressive length, the pink melon and rhubarb stalk fruit notes are spot on here, and the silky texture and crisp acidity make it an ideal candidate for all-day al fresco drinking when the mercury rises.  17.5/20 (Drink now)

2022 Château du Rouët Rosé, Villa Estérelle, Côtes de Provence (£18.95)

Gosh, this wine came out of left field. I actually drank it three times in a week, each in entirely different circumstances, and it impressed me greatly on each occasion. Smooth, pure, ravishingly energetic on the finish, with chalky minerality and energising zip, Estérelle is a classic game of two halves – the first, a languid, soothing, elegant palate and the second, a crisp, electrifyingly refreshing finish. Given its price, it also undercuts some of the big names, so do not miss out.  18/20 (Drink now)

A ravishing En Rama 

NV Tio Pepe, Fino En Rama, Sherry, Spain (approx. £16.99, www.thewinesociety.comwww.leaandsandeman.co.uk, www.noblegrape.co.uk,  www.ampswinemerchants.co.uk, www.ocado.com, Majestic, and many others). 

I always get excited tasting the En Rama releases each year because these raw, unfiltered, and somewhat challenging wines are more food-friendly, combative, and connoisseur-style than the all-year-round, much tamer, filtered wines. This year’s release of Tio Pepe’s legendary En Rama Fino is no exception, with big, salty, nut and olive hints, main course intensity and an immense finish. I don’t doubt you could tackle every dish on the most encyclopaedic menu imaginable, and this wine would go with every single one!  18/20 (Drink now)

 A Legendary VdC!

2020 Vin de Constance, Klein Constantia, Constantia, South Africa (to be released in September, 500ml bottle, approx. £60.00, from a large collection of fine wine merchants).

You can read all about this wine and its history on this very website because I have written it up a good number of times, so I will not rehash Vin de Constance’s elite customer list over the centuries.  Suffice it to say that when this sample arrived, my heart quickened, and I tasted it at the very first opportunity.  Why? Because it doesn’t matter what vintage you manage to track down, this wine is always celestial. In 2020, alongside the trademark beeswax, honeycomb, pineapple, peach, pear and countless other descriptors, you will find an acid structure that defies belief.  Then one notices the colour or lack thereof.  This is a painfully pale wine for such an all-singing and dancing flavour.  I have witnessed these rare characteristics several times over the years, and they signal a Vin de Constance of uncommon longevity.  Pale, taut and yet explosive = an epic vintage.  And suppose you are tempted to open a bottle when it arrives this autumn.  In that case, you do not have to feel guilty because it already tastes incredible but, equally, I think you might be able to forget about this wine for three or more decades, and it will still knock you over with its complexity and grace.  19+/20 (Drink now to 2050)

A beautiful English Rosé

2022 Folc, Dry English Rosé, Kent (£101.94, for six bottles, www.drinkfolc.com).

The folk at Folc were kind enough to send me an early preview of this wine a couple of months ago, and I have now tasted it five times. On each occasion, there is more to discover. Unlike the 2022 vintage Provence rosés, which are all uncommonly forward, 2022 Folc is tangy, raw, raspy and challenging. It loves to be chilled down to near-ice-bucket-temperature and then deployed with sushi rolls (with loads of wasabi and soy sauce), fresh prawns with spicy cocktail sauce, gyozas with nam jin sauce, Thai fish cakes with chilli jam, lightly curried scallops and all manner of epic canapés with attitude and spice. The stunning nettle and raspberry flavours combine to counter any and all flavour assaults, cooling the palate and reasoning with dishes that would frighten even the most robust of Southern French pink wines.  18/20 (Drink now – 2024)

A Stunning Sextet from ‘The High Street’

White

2022 Paul Mas, Marsanne, Pays d’Oc, France (£8.00, Asda).

It is all too easy to run into Asda and miss this wine on the shelves because the label is rather dull, and Marsanne might not be the first white grape you are looking for. But please slow down and grab a bottle because the price is truly astounding for a wine of this class. This is a wicked treat with amazing balance, smooth, juicy, wild honey, quince and apricot blossom notes and a superb, keenly refreshing finish. The snob in me would suggest that you chill it and then serve it decanted so your guests have an open mind about the flavour before you reveal its origins. When you reveal the variety and price point, I bet their eyebrows hit the ceiling. You can always rely on Jean-Claude Mas to come up trumps! 

Rosé

2022 Ramón Bilbao, El Viaje del Ramón Garnacha Rosado, Rioja, Spain (£8.95, Coop).

Finding Southern French rosé under a tenner that passes muster with my palate is virtually impossible. With recent duty hikes and rising costs along every step of the supply chain, sub-tenner beauties of all hues are fast-disappearing, but this epic rosé from Spain is an absolute winner. Stunningly balanced, light and expressive, this is a delicious, refreshing and elegant wine from the ever-reliable Ramón Bilbao. If you want to buy a cheap rosé this summer, this is the best I can find.

2022 Château La Négly, La Natice Rosé, Languedoc, France (£13.75, Coop).

There is more weight, structure and minerality on display here compared to the Spanish Rosado above, making it a main course proposition as opposed to an all-day glugger. With melon, rhubarb, and raspberry notes underpinned by discreet saline and bouquet garni herb touches, this is a highly successful wine that stands in for a red, given its palate weight and length of flavour.

Red

2021 Château Capitoul, La Clape, Languedoc, France (£9.00, Coop).

This is not really a summer red, given it is made from 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 20% Carignan. This time-honoured recipe, a mainstay in the South of France and Southern Rhône, is more suited to autumnal far and, in fairness, it is a youthful rouge. It could easily benefit from a couple of months more bottle age, but I wanted to flag it up now so you can make a note in your diary! At nine quid, this is a steal and a wine that makes many a Châteauneuf-du-Pape blush, so don’t forget about Capitoul!

2020 Marea, Syrah, Valle de Leyda, Chile (£15.99, reduced to £12.99 in a Mix Six, Majestic).

I have always liked this spicy Syrah from Chile’s cool climate region of Leyda. The earth and pepper notes serve to heighten the fruit, and instead of this being a fuller framed style of Syrah/Shiraz, with black fruit notes, it shows plum and blueberry tones, making it a refreshing style that enjoys being chilled a touch, lifting the palate with a crunch of acidity and freshness, which makes it incredibly toothsome and enjoyable. This is a beauty if you are looking for a worthy al fresco red from off the beaten track. 

2014 Château Fontesteau, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux, France (£16.99, reduced to £12.99 in a Mix Six, Majestic).

It might seem odd to recommend a red Bordeaux in the height of summer, but you do not have to drink this wine now!

You can always save it for the autumn, but you certainly will have to buy your bottles as soon as possible because this wine is bound to fly at this price and as soon as word gets out! Nine years old and at the peak of its powers, this is a posh fellow with textbook Left Bank flavours and beneath the erudite exterior, there is impressive richness, too. When I first tasted it, my mind was immediately drawn to hearty Sunday lunches, large gatherings where you don’t want to open an expensive wine, but you still need to impress picky guests and quiet nights in where you just want something classy that doesn’t cost a bomb. This wine ticks all of these bases, and at £13, it is the smartest value red Bordeaux on the shelves right now.

A scintillating Riesling from Winebarn

2021 Riesling 1763, K.F Groebe, Rheinhessen, Germany (£21.60, www.thewinebarn.co.uk). 

While a couple of wines this week represent incredible value because they are ‘cheap’, this one also seems incredibly keenly priced, given its flavour, and it sits above £20! Made from ripe fruit that might have made it into a Spätlese wine from another estate, but here is rewarded with the famous 1763 label, the pristine nature and apparent intensity of the Riesling notes in this wine are extraordinary, made all the more remarkable because is it a ‘dry wine’. I say dry when the residual sugar is a hefty 10.5 g/L, but it appears dry because the acidity buried in the core of this thrilling creation is so arresting and commanding that it firms the experience up to white-knuckle levels. Very few wines in the world offer seduction with a sting like this one. The most obvious port of call is Australia, where elite dry Rieslings are widely available. But none of them has the delicacy of this one. The flavour-shape is sensational – long, cool, flirtatious, teasing, and exquisitely tense. Do everything you can to taste this wine.  18.5/20 (Drink now – 2025)

FIN