2020 Wine Spectator top 100 wines revealed

Each year since 1988, the influential and prestigious US Wine Spectator magazine has released its Top 100 list, where the editors select the most exciting wines from the more than 11,000 they reviewed during 2020. Its influence is substantial; many wines that feature highly in the list sell quickly in following months, often at increased prices.(The selection prioritises quality (based on score), value (based on price) and availability. These criteria are applied to the wines that rated outstanding (90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) to determine the Top 100 for the year.

For the third year in a row, a widely known European wine took top honours, with the 2010 Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial ($120.00) from Rioja taking up the mantle from the 2016 Léoville-Barton ($180.00) and 2015 Sassicaia ($325.00), the 2019 and 2018 victors.

I was pleased to see a number of wines from Dundee Hills and the Willamette Valley in Oregon featured as I reviewed these wines in a previous Blog when I visited in 2017.

But lets face it. All top wine lists are subjective. For instance Penfold’s Grange has been selected number one in previous lists but this year did not make the top 100. Instead its 2018 Bin 28 Kalimna shiraz ($40.00) came in at 41st. Another surprise was Central Otago’s 2018 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir (75.00) at 14th.  This wine does not enter the NZ wine shows so no comparison can be made to other Central Otago pinot noirs.

Among the other Australasian  wines to win gongs were Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet, 46th ($39) and for Sauvginon Blanc drinkers, Marlborough’s 2020 Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 23rd ($15.00) and 2019 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 73rd ($18.00).

Hold your hats!  Of all the Shiraz produced in Australia it was the Fowles 2018 Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch from the Strathbogie Ranges ($32.00) who scraped in at 97th position leaving Elderton and Henschke in its wake.

There are good quality bargains among this subjective lot to seek out. Enjoy and leave your comments.

 

Posted in Features | Leave a comment

Heathcote wines reviewed

Now the lock down in Victoria Australia, is over, it is time to explore     the Heathcote wine region something I have not done for a few years. Over two and a half days I was surprised at what I discovered. It was the good, the bad and the ugly!

Lets go and I’ll tell you about each of the wineries with some snapshot reviews.

I stayed at the Heathcote Inn

Was clean but very basic. The restaurant serving wholesome pub food doubles as the bar and was noisy. Lines of local wine were on display facing the hot setting sun. At $130 a night it’s an in and out motel so you get what you pay for. Take your own breakfast. Fruit and granola available for $10 per head extra.

It is not a gourmet foodie destination. The Heathcote Inn, Palling Bros Brewery and Juniper Lounge all served big wholesome pub quality food. A trip to the internationally known Tooborac Hotel and Brewery was worth the trip to partake in its famous home made pies including a rabbit pie.

Wild Duck Creek
Hidden off the beaten track. Hosts Liam and Bryan were welcoming and cheerful giving an interesting family background. The 2019 Mallard Riesling was crisp, fresh but unremarkable and a drink now proposition. Best value was the 2018 Ducks and Drakes Cabernet.  Vivid red with a palate of blackberries and tobacco. $40. 90/100. The 2018 Springflat Shiraz was the pick of the lineup. Sourced from four sites it was dense in colour showing chocolate and rich dark fruits with nice acid to lift it. $65. 92/100. I did not try the 2018 Reserve at $130. Not a bad start to the weekend.

Munari Wines

There were 11 wines in the portfolio – far too many. Winemaker Adrian Munari, continuing a long family tradition was quick to point out that “I need a variety to suit all palates”. On tasting was an array of back vintages of which only 4 were current. Only the 2013 India Red Cabernet appealed. Was showing its age with herbal and leather overtones and a soft finish. $30. 87/100.  Of the most recent vintages the 2018 Merlot from grafted vines was light and short. Adrian admitted that it has been inconsistent and would not be made in future. $30. 86/100. Plenty of work to do here.

Vinea Marson

Mario Marson learnt his trade at St Huberts and Mt Mary and has accomplished 40 vintages in his career and now has set about establishing a vineyard of all Italian varieties. A difficult job when most people’s palate is more alined to King Valley Italian styles but of the 5 wines I looked at the 2017 Grazia, a blend of 59% Pinot Bianco, 20% Malvasia d’Istria, 16% Friulano & 5% Picolit was no doubt challenging to make. Pale straw in colour with a hint of green. The acid cut through and could have been identified as a Marsanne with butter and lemon overtones. $28. 92/100. The 2018 Rosato also got a gong. $28. 90/100. This was not the only vineyard in Heathcote that is trying to make regional Italian style. Why they are abandoning shiraz beats me. The Cambrian silky beckons. More about this later.

Tellurian

With a brand new expensive, spacious and spectacular cellar door (opened on 21 November) this was a highlight of the region visit. Certainly the 2 course  lunch at $35 was delightful and you must put this on your itinerary. The wines were classy too. The 2019 Fino, 2018 Marsanne and 2019 Viognier all rated 92/100. But it was the two Shiraz’s that stood out. The just released 2019 Pastiche Shiraz (14%) won the best shiraz at the Heathcote Wine Show in November  this year. The wine is well balanced with notes of plum, blackberries, pepper spice, oak, and a touch of eucalyptus. The tannins are soft and silky. The finish is long, medium dry, and has a persistent pepper spice. $28. 94/100. The 2017 Tranter Shiraz (14.5%) was another superb example of Heathcote Shiraz; excellent weight, bright red fruit and dark plum flavours with a silky mouthfeel supported by soft  tannins. $40. 95/100. At last polished Heathcote Shiraz at top value. Buy.

Domain Asmara

The 2019 Infinity Shiraz (15.8%) is a class act, purple red, ripe black fruit laced with nice oak treatment at $75. 93/100. Better value is the 2018 Reserve Cabernet which displayed a long soft and lingering finish. $21. 93/100. Thats a buy! Hosts and owners Henni and Andreas Grieving then showed two Durifs. The 2019 Private Reserve was rich but on the finish was very dry. $40. 88/100. However the 2018 Infinity Durif (17.4%) was big but not as robust as a Rutherglen style. Loved the huge fruit explosion on the palate. $75. 95/100. Contract made but one of the unheralded excellent wineries in the region providing quality fruit.

Sanguine

Wine maker Mark Hunter provided a tutorial tasting of six wines starting with 2019 Rose $20. 88/100 but better wines followed. A new release 2019 Cabernet Bordeaux blend of 75% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc and 10% merlot. Hand-picked, it is a medium bodied wine with a long finish and aftertaste full of fruit. One for Cabernet lovers at $25. 94/100. Buy. The 2017 D’Orsa Shiraz spent 18 months in oak (70% new). Hopefully over the next 5+ years the oak will cease fire, leaving a medium-bodied shiraz with fruit, oak and tannins in balance. $70. 94/100. The 2018 Inception Shiraz shares the deep colour with D’Orsa,  extended maceration of 18 months in French oak (30% new). Just released it is nicely balanced with oak and long full palate with hints of pepper lingering. $40. Finally the 2019 Progeny Shiraz with plenty of show gongs spent only 9 months in French oak in an attempt to be approachable as a young wine and so can be enjoyed now. $25. 90/100. Beware the other shiraz’s have a drinking distance of up to 20 plus years! Great wines and typical fine Heathcote rich style.

 Jasper Hill

Emily McNally (nee Laughton) was most generous. Her name sake top of the range shiraz is available only one bottle per person $108. But 2019 Georgia’s Paddock showed good spectrum colour, cherry berry ripe fruits, and prominent oak and tannins. Good for 15 years. $82. 95/100. But they also make 2018 Occam’s Shiraz. This is a smooth, silky smokey expression with deep raspberry vanilla, plum, blueberry and a great bargain at $46. 92/100. The tasting finished with a line up of 2006 each of Nebbiolo, Georgia’s and Emily Paddocks. The 2006 Nebbiolo was a revelation with deep colour, full through the palate holding nicely together. If you have this you are privileged. I thought the Georgia’s was past so drink now and Emily’s was still going forward. A nice comparison of  the best of the 2006 vintage. Sanguine and Tellurian may not have the high regard and sought after reputation as Jasper Hill but are in the same league!

 Heathcote Winery

Denise and Steve Williams were on the job here and a tasting of eight wines (10 available) between four designated ranges were presented. Too many wines – two many ranges. In the Euro range the 2020 Vermentino – grapes from McIvor Estate – was light, limey, hints of green apples and with plenty of long flavour. $27. 92/100. This variety originally grown in Italy’s Liguria region and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica is steadily growing in popularity here and is an ideal summer drink. In the Premium range the iconic reliable 2019 Mail Coach Shiraz (14.2%) now in its 30th vintage showed the new French oak up front. Needs time. $32. 92/100. In the Single Vineyard range 2018 Slaughterhouse Paddock Shiraz had loads of oak up front with eucalyptus and mint dominating. $50.86/100. The Wilkins Shiraz $105, in the Super Premium range was not tried.

 Meehan Vineyard

Planted in 2005 as a family dream, but winemaker Phil Meehan sadly passed away in August 2018 leaving wife Judy and her daughter to struggle on. Condie Wines has now taken over the lease and Judy was only too delighted to chat and show what she had available for sale; vintages from 2014 to 2017. The 2016 Tempranillo was chewy and rich. $30. 90/100. Judy then kindly presented a vertical tasting of 2014, 15 and 16 Shiraz’s. 2014 was deep red in colour was full in length, nice chocolate and fruit up front and long on the palate. $60. 94/100. The 2015 finished short, stalky and a very dry finish. $55. 87/100. Finally 2016 while dry up front was sweet and juicy, not a true Shiraz style though. $55. 90/100. None had hints of pepper on the nose.

Condie Vineyard

Richie Condie is on the expansion trail with the lease of Meehan, Wanted Man vineyard 4 kms away and also has a property at Wild Duck Creek so sourcing grapes should not be a problem moving forward. Five wines were presented. The 2018 Giarracco Sangiovese matured in used three year old oak barrels and while a little sour had sweet raspberries coming through, was high in acid and finished full of subtle flavours. $30. 91/100. The 2017 Gwen Shiraz (14%) was the pick of two Shiraz’s. From two blocks it has dark fruits, with black berry, plum and spice overtones. A little stringent. $30. 90/100. I could not resist buying a Richie experiment of a 2018 Sangiovese Rose clean skin. At $15 a bargain. Clean with a long balanced palate. Move quick on this.

McIvor Estate

Another winery on the move, changing hands. It has just been purchased by Chinese interests with one partner from Sydney and the other an Adelaide Chinese exporter. Not sure they had counted on the up to 200% China import duty impost in mind. Four Italian varieties out of nine on show and once again all were back vintages on sale and tasting. Host Max Poyser was keen to talk up the quality but overall a disappointing lineup. The pick of an average lot was the 2014 Estate Merlot. Dry, a medium bodied wine with moderate acidity, with blackberries, cherries, plums, and cocoa overtones. $35. 90/100. Max was happy to discount all the wines in an effort to move them on. It will be interesting to see if this winery continues to make wine

Summary

With a few exceptions the face of Heathcote Shiraz on its dark Cambrian soils left me flat. In the reviews above it is easy to assess where the back bone of the region can be found. Certainly some good value abounds but the Italian varieties need more time and development to give the region a new focus and identity. If thats what they want.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Penfold’s new Grange blend called g4

Stand by for the Treasury Estates marketing machine to grind up to full blast with the launch of the 2020 release of its Collection wines on August 6.

Adding to this year’s release, Penfolds will launch a new wine blended from four vintages of Grange, aptly named Penfolds g4. The blend entwines Grange DNA from the 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2016 vintages to create a completely new Penfolds flagship.

Only 2,500 bottles are available at A$3,500 (750ml) each.  Ummm. If you need someone to help you sample it, send me an email so I can do some tasting notes. Please!

The complete list of other wines to be released are as follows. Note these are RRP and of course shop around for a better deal. They don’t come any cheaper theses days do they?

• 2016 Grange $950.00
• 2018 Yattarna $175.00
• 2018 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon $650.00
• 2018 RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz $200.00
• 2018 Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon $360.00
• 2018 Magill Estate Shiraz $150.00
• 2017 St Henri Shiraz $135.00
• 2019 Reserve Bin A Adelaide Hills Chardonnay $125.00
• 2018 Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz $100.00
• 2018 Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon $110.00
• 2018 Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz $100.00
• 2018 Bin 28 Shiraz $50.00
• 2018 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz $60.00
• 2018 Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mataro $60.00
• 2019 Bin 23 Pinot Noir $50.00
• 2019 Bin 311 Chardonnay $50.00
• 2020 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling $40.00

Posted in New Releases, Wine News | Leave a comment

Australian Prosecco sales soar

Lets start this report with the news that a PINK Prosecco has been officially approved by the Italian Prosecco DOC members. Strange you may say because pink Prosecco has been made and on sale in Australia for at least 5 years!

Pink Prosecco will provide a sales boost for producers

According to the new Italian regulations rosé Prosecco must be made with a Glera base and blended with 10%-15% Pinot Nero.   The only two permitted styles will be a Brut natural and extra dry style. The wines are allowed to go on sale at the earliest only on 1 January 2021. Labels must be vintage dated with a minimum of 85% of the fruit coming from the stated vintage. The new regulations are going to be made national and European law on the Italian government’s Official Gazette and the EU’s Official Gazette. It was also announced on 20 July that the Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG has approved a decision by its members to reduce the yields for the 2020 harvest to mitigate the risk of oversupplying in the wake of the coronavirus.

View of the vineyards Valdobbiadene Hill harvested for the Prosecco sparkling wine

This is how the Italians go about things and why they are actively attempting through the courts to ban   the term Prosecco. The pink version allows the addition of a proportion of red grapes to the white to give it colour, or grape skins to give concentrated colour. Then the pink blend undergoes a second fermentation to produce sparkling rosé – the standard method used to make Prosecco.

Australian producers have constantly been doing their own thing and producing a pink Prosecco. Five years on the Italians are catching up. A few years ago a select group of Italian winemakers visited on a study trip to the King Valley saw, and tasted the regions pink Prosecco but only now are they themselves authorising a pink version.

 Also I have detailed the march to Canberra to lobby federal politicians to battle the European Union to allow Australia call the wine Prosecco, instead of the variety’s real name Glera. I suspect few people would buy a sparkling wine called “Glera”. But by its protected name of Prosecco it is the fastest growing sparkling wine style in the world.

The Victorian Government also gave the King Valley lobby group a $30,000 fighting fund to protect their use of the name. This fighting fund is also used to work with Wine Victoria and the King Valley inspired Prosecco Road initiative to drive domestic visitors to the King Valley region now that international tourists are many months away.

Anyhow instead of French Champagne I now opt for a King Valley Prosecco when I want to enjoy a refreshing sparkling wine. (Not the pink version). Readers of this Blog will recall I have touched on the ongoing controversy over the use of the name to describe the variety in Australia.

It is a grape variety indigenous to north-eastern Italy’s Veneto region. Prosecco DOC which is, in fact, the name of the region, which is why there’s the current controversy. Prosecco is the biggest-selling Italian wine in the world.

In Australia, Prosecco is the fastest growing category in the off-trade market. Sales are rapidly growing and have more than doubled in the last two years. Prosecco is now the second biggest sparkling wine category behind Chardonnay Pinor Noir blends. While most white grape varieties saw a decline in production volumes, Prosecco bucked the trend, moving it into the top 10 white varieties for the first time. Prosecco is now grown across 11 Australian regions. The majority is grown in the King Valley and Murray Darling-Swan Hill regions. Needless to say the quality also varies considerably as winemakers look to cash in on the brand.

Why is Prosecco so popular?

Prosecco is more affordable and approachable than other sparkling wines, such as Champagne. It is easy to drink and sophisticated without the pretence that is sometimes associated with drinking Champagne. Champagne is too luxurious, heavy and unaffordable for a weekly treat or small event. Sales of cheap Prosecco in the domestic market are predominantly between $10 and $20 per bottle but for better quality brands look for $30 – $45. This price point has made drinking ‘bubbly’ a much more accessible experience and an everyday luxury. Prosecco is also appealing because it is a versatile sparkling alternative for all occasions. It can be enjoyed as it comes or mixed with Aperol for a refreshing spritz. I delight in making an Aperol Spritz as an aperitif.

Italian Proseccos

No alt text provided for this image

Bellussi Prosecco di Valdobbiadene is a notable Italian Prosecco. Nice white floral overtones with notes of green apples alongside a creamy, long-lasting taste with just a touch of sweetness. A$22.00. Salatin Prosecco Extra Dry. The colour  was  yellow with greenish highlights  but there was an explosion of fruit and floral aromas with the distinctive fresh notes of green apple. Finished smooth and sweet. A$24.00. Porta Dante Prosecco can be found in major liquor chains at about A$16.00. Bright straw yellow hue leads to peach/apple fruits. Soft style and great for general drinking or for the Aperol!  Mionetto releases a number of Prosecco styles. Light straw colour with hints of honey and white peach. Nice acidity provides a fresh and lively mouthfeel with a clean dry finish. Use it to make cocktails. A$14.00.  Zonin Prosecco features a colourful label to attract the punters. Falls over from there. Taste was sweet with those yeasty overtones and citrus after tastes. A pleasant wine for the main market. A$14.00 from major chains. Valdo Marca Oro Prosecco Valdobbiadene-Veneto is exported to and recognised throughout the world. Delicate pale gold fruitful aromas of  golden delicious apples and a hint of honey. Balanced palate and the best of this lineup. A$21.00.

 Australian Proseccos

The Australian Prosecco brands here vary from large to boutique producers. There are also plenty of mediocre versions.

No alt text provided for this image

I can’t talk about Australian Prosecco brands without mentioning Dal Zotto first.Dal Zotto owners: Winemaker Michael (left) and Christian Dal Zotto

Dal Zotto Prosecco PucinoDal Zotto is a pioneer of Prosecco in Australia. Twenty years ago, patriarch Otto Dal Zotto sourced Prosecco vine cuttings from the home of Prosecco and his home region of Veneto in north-eastern Italy, to plant at his home in King Valley.

Their NV Pucino Prosecco (opposite) accounts for 95% of all its Australian sales and no wonder why.

Pale straw colour, hints of fresh cut pear, citrus and touch of spice jump out on the bouquet; the palate is soft and with gentle bubbles provides maximum freshness.  $19.00 96/100

Australia’s biggest Prosecco producer, Brown Brothers, of the King Valley, is also worth noting. It has invested millions of dollars on planting Prosecco vines in the region and plans to develop a Prosecco packaging facility costing more than $20 million. De Bortoli and Pizzini are other popular producers from Australia’s home of Prosecco, the King Valley. Niccolò and Zaptung are a couple of boutique brands from South Australia. It’s also worth mentioning a couple of brands imported from Italy, but to my understanding created and positioned only for the domestic wine market: Mascareri and Ciao Bella. Finally, Freixenet is another import in a striking cut glass bottle – made to impress.

Finally consider Prosecco in cans. It is very appealing because of its versatility,  affordability and convenience. During the summer cans can be kept chilled and easily carried in portable eskys to the beach or around the pool.

My I can’t wait.

Posted in Features, Wine News | Leave a comment

James Halliday selling his rare wines

James Halliday in his cellar. Picture: Julian Kingma

It took half a century for James Halliday to accumulate his $1m collection of rare Burgundy wines. But at 82, he can’t drink them all. (Like many of us with cellars so full that they will never be drunk while we are alive). 

James Halliday tells the story…

More than half a century ago I went to wine appreciation lessons conducted by the great Len Evans and I introduced myself to him, with no idea what it would lead to. From 1965, when he was appointed national promotions executive of the Australian Wine Board, until his death in 2006, he towered over the Australian fine wine landscape like no one before or since. My relationship with him started as mutual friendship, but deepened to one of unconditional love.

In the late 1960s, relatively early in our ­friendship, I went to Len’s house in Greenwich on Sydney’s north shore for dinner and gave him a fly-casting lesson – I have a lifelong passion for fly-fishing – on the large lawn behind his house. The lesson over, he thrust a glass of red wine towards me. “What do you think of this?” he said.

I remember the following moments as clearly as if they happened yesterday. As I moved the glass towards my nose, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and as I started to fully inhale the aromas I was literally rooted to the spot. I had never imagined that any red (or other) wine could have such an exquisite bouquet, one that offered yet more joy each time I swirled the glass. I lost myself in that bouquet, forgetting to taste the wine, and then, shaking myself out of the reverie, I thought: I’m afraid to taste it, lest it is less magical – a reaction I have experienced many times since.

Instead, I took a sip, and experienced a cathedral of tastes beyond description; mere words are inadequate to do it justice. In a strangled voice, I asked: “What is it?” The answer: a 1962 La Tâche from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, maker of the world’s greatest wines, and some of the rarest.

I have now been collecting (and consuming) wine for more than 60 years, initially with a focus on Australian wine, then expanding to experience the great wines of the world. I have written more than 70 books, and have judged wine in Australia, Europe and the US, with years as chair of the National Wine Show of Australia and at capital city wine shows. I first made wine in the Hunter Valley in 1973, as a co-founder of Brokenwood.

Throughout all these years, the jewel in the crown of my cellar has been the wines of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. I bought my first bottle of wine from the Domaine (the French equivalent of “winery”) in 1969 or 1970, and over the years have amassed a collection, stored in the cellar under my house, that has fluctuated but ­currently stands at 260 bottles.

While I have shared many bottles over the ­decades with friends who venerate the Domaine, I have never sold any of its wines – and the Domaine does not encourage it. As I approach my 82nd birthday, however, I have decided to sell my entire collection, which auctioneer Langton’s has given an estimated worth of upwards of $1 million.

The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, located inBurgundy, northwest France, ­comprises six main vineyards, each with its own appellation – the smallest somewhat confusingly named “La Romanée-Conti”. Four vineyards date back to the 7th century, when the construction of the Abbey of Saint-Vivant de Vergy began. In 1760, Prince de Conti bought La Romanée-Conti for an ­exorbitant price and promptly reserved the entire production for himself. After the French Revolution there were several owners until 1869, when the core of the present day DRC was assembled.

The La Romanée-Conti vineyard was zealously protected from the scourge of phylloxera that swept Europe in the last quarter of the 19th century, but nevertheless the pest gradually affected yields on this hallowed ground; the 1945 vintage amounted to only 600 bottles so the vines were ripped out, the next ­vintage coming in 1952.

It’s hard to imagine now, but it was not until 1959 that DRC’s grape-growing and winemaking business created a profit, and the first small ­dividend was paid to family shareholders. When shareholders through much of the 19th century sold their holdings it was not because they made a profit by selling, but because they could not ­sustain the losses. In earlier centuries the wealth of the nobility made the losses immaterial, and for 500 years various orders of the Church had no such thing as a balance sheet to consider.

The value or price of a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wine cannot be calculated by a simple price/earnings ratio. On the secondary market a price of $20,000 for a bottle of la Romanée-Conti is the minimum, and an average production of 5500 bottles per year gives rise to gross sales of $110 million a year. But such calculations are irrelevant. The families are not going to sell, period. The French Government would not condone a sale to a non-French bidder at any price. And now it is a case of the Domaine seeking to restrain prices. Highly sought after by collectors in the US, Japan, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and recently China, all the Domaine’s releases are on allocation: the ­distributors in various countries take what they are offered. Bottles are numbered, and the Domaine has made it clear to its distributors that if a wine is sold shortly after delivery, those responsible won’t be allocated wines the next year. Quiet cash sales that don’t create a ripple continue, of course.

As collecting swelled my cellar – eventually to 10,000 bottles – I was constantly on the lookout for bottles from the Domaine. But even in the early years they were seldom, if ever, to be found on retailers’ shelves. I have bought DRCs at ­Christie’s auctions in London, from Negociants (the Australian distributors since 1984) and direct from the Domaine. The oldest bottles were from 1942, some notable vintages being 1948, 1962, 1971 and (my all-time favourite) 1978.

In 1998, my wife and I were among a group of wine friends, led by Gary Steel, founder/owner of Domaine Wine Shippers, who bought a house in the tiny town of Monthélie, France. Our visits have always been in May, and the most important of the numerous visits to the foremost Burgundy domaines was to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. These days, the booming global interest in fine wine means it is virtually impossible to arrange a visit, especially if it is the first, and it’s now necessary for even longstanding clients to arrange a visit months before the event.

James Halliday’s cellar. Picture: Julian Kingma James Hallidays cellar. pix Julian Kingman

Over the decades I have staged or been to many great dinners featuring great Bordeaux, ­Burgundies and some of Australia’s rarest wines, dating from the 19th century. In 2005, a year before Len Evans’ death, a Single Bottle Club ­dinner had a magnum of 1929 Romanée-Conti as its ­highlight, purchased from a Belgian cellar for $60,000. Sixteen of the 27 wines were from 1929, and therein lies a song. Len was born in August 1930, a dreadful vintage across France; 1929, on the other hand, was a great vintage, and the year of his ­conception. So it was this we celebrated.

I have given freely of the greatest wines in my cellar for such occasions, because I absolutely believe these wines should be shared with those who understand and appreciate them. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines have ­usually been my contribution. Yet I have never sat down at home and opened a bottle of DRC to drink at dinner. Don’t get me wrong: if the occasion at home is a special one, I do not hesitate to open memorable bottles.

If anyone says, “But they’re so expensive/valuable”, my response is that it doesn’t cost me anything to bring them up out of the ­cellar. At one stage in the not-so-distant past I had more than half a dozen bottles of La Romanée-Conti – the most highly prized of all DRC wines – but haven’t been replenishing the stock because the market demand from all corners of the globe has taken the price to stratospheric levels.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti gave me so much joy for so many years; it became central to my wine life. The joy has been enhanced by the pleasure, verging on a sense of awe, it has aroused in those who have shared the wines with me. I have the tasting notes and the menus from most of the 100 or so great dinners featuring DRC wines I have been to over the past 50-plus years.

My heart is deeply saddened by this sale, but I hope it will be the opportunity for the many wine lovers around the world to start or add to a ­collection of these wines. And my sadness has been assuaged by the knowledge that my memories of the wines will never fade.

Almost 60 years after it was made, that 1962 La Tâche is still a beautiful wine.

The Langton’s auction will be online and open from May 30 to June 28.

THE VINEYARDS

Echézeaux: A vineyard that produces highly expressive wines, with a seductive floral bouquet and a sweet red fruit palate, the tannins silky.

Grands-Echézeaux: Within the Domaine, this is simply known as The Grand, a clear endorsement of its quality. Its wines are richer and more structured than those of Echézeaux, with darker fruits and a hint of game (in the best sense).

Romanée-St-Vivant: I have always loved wines from this vineyard, even before the many improvements made in its management since the Domaine purchased it outright. It manages to be intense yet gloriously fragrant and fine as silk. I rank it third behind La Romanée-Conti and La Tâche.

Richebourg: Many devotees of the Domaine rate this vineyard second to La Romanée-Conti, pointing to the velvety power of its wines. I think Richebourg wines need longer to open up, and arguably emerge close to the best.

La Tâche: It has been said many times and proved many times that for the first 20 years or so, wines from La Tâche and La Romanée-Conti are difficult to tell apart. It is easy to rate La Tâche best because of the incredible fragrance of its wines and the prodigious length of their palate and aftertaste.

La Romanée-Conti: I’ve had more than my fair share of La Romanée-Conti wines over the years; the most compelling was a 1956, served blind in the Domaine’s cellars. The vines were barely 10 years old, yet it was a truly extraordinary wine from an appalling vintage.

Grateful thanks to James Halliday and the Weekend Australian Magazine to allow me to reproduce this article.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment