The annual “Ten Years On” blind tasting this year was delayed from February because of the pandemic but eventually took place at the beginning of October 2021 – appropriately exactly ten years after the harvest’s last Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were picked.
The dinner between the Southwold tasting days is always a highlight of the week, and often the year. After nine hours of tasting young - often highly tannic - red Bordeaux, you might think the last thing needed would be more wine. But, perhaps after a cleansing beer, these dinners can re-invigorate the palate and mind. Every year there is a theme; be it region, vintage, variety or other. This year, the wines took on the concept of the Judgement of Paris tasting, in honour of the late Steven Spurrier. Southwold 2017 is the first vintage without Steven since his passing earlier this year. What better way to toast to his memory than with a comparative tasting of American and French wines, much as he did to send shockwaves through the industry in 1976.
The Southwold Group usually convenes in January; this year was obviously different and we were pleased to finally hold our tasting of the 2017 vintage this week. The panel included no less than six MWs, the buyers of the UK’s leading merchants and Neal Martin of Vinous.com. Our friend Steven Spurrier was much missed.
Unlike many in the wine world, the Brajkovich family are not known for over-hyping the quality of their wines at Kumeu River. Despite consistently high praise in critical review for Chardonnays that are – in our opinion – world class, the prices and people behind the wines have remained remarkably modest. And so, when Michael Brajkovich told us that 2020 might be the best vintage he has ever made, we took it very seriously. Could the new vintage possibly top the unquestionably great 2019s?
The 2011 Bordeaux En Primeur campaign was destined to struggle. It followed two great vintages in 2009 and 2010 – meaning that most Bordeaux lovers were already over-stocked with superb wines. On top of this, the market was in the middle of a correction from peaks the previous summer, and many châteaux simply did not reduce their prices close to the required level in order to entice buyers for the new vintage. Furthermore, the wines were difficult to taste En Primeur, presenting a tannic and closed profile. As a result, those with too much wine were offered an expensive vintage with mediocre reviews from critics and merchants alike. 2011s were quickly forgotten in favour of the charming, forward and lower-priced 2012s. But now, things are changing.
Jean-Marie Guffens needs little introduction to our customers. The maverick Belgian vigneron has produced outstanding, great value wines for decades through his Domaine Guffens-Heynen and négociant Maison Verget. These wines are now almost exclusively from the Maconnais, from old vines and great sites overlooked by those with tunnel vision for the Côte d’Or. Please see our in-depth profile on Jean-Marie from the definitive vertical of his wines, hosted by Farr Vintners.
“Spain’s northern, Atlantic Ocean–influenced winegrowing zones were virtually unknown to most wine lovers only a decade ago, but things have changed dramatically. Some of Spain’s most sought-after, high-quality and highly allocated red wines come from Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra… Today, collectors are chasing down small-production, Mencia-based Bierzos and Ribeira Sacras with the zeal of Burgundy aficionados” – Josh Raynolds, Vinous (March 2019)
Everyone at Farr Vintners is devasted to hear the news of the death of our dear friend Denis Durantou of Chateau L’Eglise Clinet in Pomerol.
The “Southwold Group” has been conducting an annual blind tasting of Bordeaux wines at ten years of age for nearly 30 years. The first one that I attended was of the 1982 vintage, which took place in 1992 over two days in the offices of the original Lay and Wheeler wine merchants in Colchester. I recently learned that a junior member of the L&W team helped organise this tasting, and her name was Jo Purcell. Two years later she left Essex for the bright lights of Hong Kong when she started working for Farr Vintners and opened - all on her own - the first office in Asia of a London wine merchant. She has remained there ever since and Farr Vintners’ strong reputation in the HK wine market is very much down to Jo. She just let me know the news that Richard Wheeler sadly passed away this week.
Once every so often a tasting redefines the standard by which all future tastings will be judged. This can be due to the organisation, collation of scores or notes, quality of the wines or general tasting atmosphere amongst other things. At a recent vertical of Château Latour, held in the depths of their chai, this was the case in so many ways. We were there to celebrate Stephen Browett’s 60th Birthday, and the Château had kindly arranged for us to taste 20 consecutive vintages blind in magnum under the stewardship of Frédéric Engerer and Jean Garandeau. We would taste the most recent vintages – 1999 to 2018 inclusive – all of which were made since Engerer became the CEO of the estate, and more recently the entire Artemis wine portfolio.