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The stars of the March hors Bordeaux releases on La Place

The runners and riders, it seems, are finally assembled for the March edition of La Place’s hors Bordeaux campaign. And it is quite a line-up, with some exciting new entrants from familiar (and, indeed, some less familiar) stables, some long-standing thoroughbreds and a few surprise late entrants (not least Bibi Graetz’s Balocchi trilogy).  

bordeaux wine week

The wines fall essentially in one of three categories.

First we have those now seasoned, and invariably venerable, old campaigners who have released before and will release again in March. As has become the norm, these are mainly from Italy and California and include Ornellaia, Tignanello, Guado al Tasso, Biserno, Castelgioconda, Poggio Antico, Luce and I Sodi San Niccolo (all from Tuscany), Parusso and Michele Chiarlo (from Barolo) and Promontory and Acaibo (from Napa and Sonoma, respectively, in California).

In the second category, and really for the first time in the March hors Bordeaux campaign, we see the release of mixed cases of previously released back vintages that have remained at the property until now – with Vérité releasing a mixed-case of its trilogy of wines (La Joie, La Muse and Le Desir) from the fabulous 2005 vintage and Viñedo Chadwick releasing a mixed-case of one bottle each of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages.

And in the third category we have an impressive number of entirely new arrivals on La Place – with single-vineyard releases from Bibi Graetz, Borgogno, Ceretto, Dal Forno, Bodegas Contador, Cathiard Vineyards, Chappellet and VIK – and the release of Joyau from Champagne Boizel.

We also have a handful of releases that either fall into neither category or that tick multiple boxes simultaneously – with Michele Chiarlo adding the Barbaresco Faset to an existing portfolio of Barolo releases; and both Bibi Graetz and Borgogno releasing new wines for the first time in March in a mixed case format (multiple wines for Bibi Graetz and multiple vintages of the same wine for Borgogno). We will also see the second release on La Place of Moët Hennessy’s Ao Yun from China.

In what follows I give tasting notes for all of the new releases and all mixed cases of older wines re-released through la place as well as identifying a few additional highlights from the now more familiar wines that comprise the core of the March edition of the hors Bordeaux campaign.

But before doing so, it is perhaps both interesting and useful to reflect a little on both the evolution of hors Bordeaux and the somewhat complex market conditions facing these wines on their release.

Hors Bordeaux was until recently an annual September-only event, timed to coincide with the post-en primeur lull in the négociants’ calendar (and their return from the beaches of Arcachon and Cap Ferret).

It was Antinori (with Guado al Tasso and Tignanello) that was the first mover. The aim was clear: to de-clutter what was threatening to become an overly crowded September campaign in which, it was feared, wines were not benefiting as much as they might from their annual moment in the spotlight. The strategy worked and has been followed. The effect is that the hors Bordeaux cycle now beats to a different bi-annual rhythm, with the March and September campaigns now increasingly well institutionalised and ritualised – something la place has always done well.

For a while, however, the March campaign remained a somewhat pallid imitation of its September counterpart. That is no longer really the case. It always offered a rather different opportunity. Today, that opportunity is somewhat better exploited, with March becoming more focussed on Italy, above all, on Tuscany (as from the start) but, increasingly, on Piedmont too (with a number of leading Barolo and Barbaresco producers coming to the table). Veneto now joins the party (with Dal Forno’s arrival).

March is also becoming the moment for properties whose annual new release is in September to re-release back vintages (such as Vérité’s 2005 re-release this year). Finally, it allows (as it was always designed to allow) a more focussed attention to be lavished on some of the superstar releases (Promontory, Ornellaia, Tignanello and others whose reputation is still in the process of being constructed).

But coming before en primeur, as it does, March was always going to pose something of a risk. That risk was arguably never greater than this year. And that brings us to the market conditions of this year’s campaign – a campaign now already underway and that was launched on the 27th of February with the release of Ornellaia.

Put bluntly, the prevailing market conditions are both difficult and complex – economically and geo-politically – with escalating production and distribution costs, demand suppressed globally and with some previously key and buoyant markets very significantly reduced. The campaign is further complicated, even if the effect can be exaggerated, by the fact that these releases come on the eve of the already much-hyped 2022 Bordeaux en primeur campaign.

As any tour of the stands at Vinexpo in Paris last month would have confirmed, the négociants, an anxious bunch at the best of times, are nervous. What worries them today are the price rises that they already anticipate for a vintage that threatens to eclipse even the great trilogy of 2018-2019-2020.

The effect is tempered a little by invariably smaller vineyard yields in 2022. For if prices rise but quantities are more limited (due to reduced production and stricter selection), the cost to négociants of the allocations that they will no doubt seek to retain is likely to increase somewhat less.

But, as already hinted at, we should be careful not to exaggerate these kinds of effects anyway. Quite simply, the quantity of wine involved in the March campaign and, indeed, the number of négociants significantly implicated are both very limited. True, at least some of these wines are very expensive by prevailing Bordeaux standards (most notably perhaps, those from Napa). But, quite frankly, few if any of the leading négociants (those with the largest hors Bordeaux allocations) are likely to face financial pressure to reduce their hors Bordeaux allocations now so as better position themselves for the en primeur campaign to come.

It might also be added that, if 2022 does prove to be as exceptional as it seems it might in Bordeaux (what little I have tasted tends to point in that direction but there is no need to jump the gun here), then 2019 in Barolo, 2020 in Barbaresco and Tuscany, and the trilogy 2017-2018-2019 in California are not too shabby either. Can we really have too much of a good thing here?

Finally, the global market conditions are difficult whatever distribution system one uses and whether one releases on La Place or not. Indeed, such conditions provide quite an exacting test of the quality and efficiency of one’s distribution model. There is little doubt in my mind that a distribution system such as that offered by La Place with its famous capillarity is likely to fare much better than the single country-single importer model that many of these wineries relied upon before they came to La Place.

That is, of course, no guarantee that the campaign will prove a success; but it is a reminder of the criteria appropriate to judge its success – which are relative, not absolute.

Tasting notes

A note on the notes that follow: As regular readers will know, I am the Bordeaux and la place de Bordeaux correspondent of The Drinks Business. My specialism is Bordeaux, in particular, and northern Europe (especially Piedmont and Tuscany), secondarily. This should perhaps be born in mind when it comes to my tasting notes for other regions with which I am less familiar – Napa, Sonoma, Mendoza, Chile, Yunnan (China) and Rioja, above all. These are wines that I encounter primarily through la place. My notes, as ever, are those of an enthusiast and a wine-lover and, for these regions above all, they are best read as such.

Italian releases

Italian releases Vintage Region 1st release? Rating
Balocchi di Colore No. 1 (Bibi Graetz) 2020 Toscana (It) Yes 100
Balocchi di Colore No. 3 (Bibi Graetz) 2020 Toscana (It) Yes 97
Balocchi di Colore No. 8 (Bibi Graetz) 2020 Toscana (It) Yes 98
Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2020 Toscana (It) No 96+
I Sodi di San Niccolò (Castellare) 2019 Toscana (It) No 96
Barbaresco Faset (Michele Chiarlo) 2020 Piedmont (It) Yes 94
Barolo Cerequio (Michele Chiarlo) 2019 Piedmont (It) No 95+
Barolo Cerequio Riserva (Michele Chiarlo) 2016 Piedmont (It) No 97
Barbaresco Bernadot (Ceretto) 2020 Piedmont (It) Yes 95
Barolo Brunate (Ceretto) 2019 Piedmont (It) Yes 97
Barolo Briccho Rocche (Ceretto) 2019 Piedmont (It) Yes 98+
Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo (Ceretto) 2012 Piedmont (It) Yes 98
Barolo Riserva Liste (Borgogno) 2012* Piedmont (It) Yes 94
Barolo Riserva Cannubi (Borgogno) 2011* Piedmont (It) Yes 96
Valpolicella Superiore (Dal Forno) 2017 Veneto (It) Yes 95
Amarone DOCG (Dal Forno) 2017 Veneto (It) Yes 97+
Amarone DOG (Dal Forno) 2008 Veneto (It) Yes 97

* – part of a mixed case of three vintages

  • Balocchi di Colore No. 1 2020 (Toscana IGT; 100% Sangiovese; 3 barrels from the oldest parcel in the Vincigliata vineyard on a clay-loam soil with galestro at an altitude of up to 250 metres with a north-western exposure; the vines are up to 50 years old; vinified after soft-pressing in new open-topped barriques with indigenous yeasts; malolactic and aging in used barriques followed by 2 years of aging in bottle; 13.5% alcohol). Without any shadow of doubt, this is the best pure Sangiovese that I have ever tasted. Utterly compelling, extraordinarily complex aromatically and texturally fascinating, with the tannins acting like little glass rollers on which the diaphanous milles feuilles of fresh fruit are conveyed to the palate. Rather than pixilating the wine, the tannins accentuate the sense of layering. As I have said before (and hope to say again), the very best wines one reacts to physically as well as emotionally – with the hairs on the back of my neck signalling my focussed attention. In the glass this is sleek, translucent and crystalline, with crimson highlights. Slightly closed at first, just enough to draw you in, this opens beautifully to reveal its studied purity, precision and profound clarity. This is supremely pure fruited – redcurrant, red and darker berry fruits, a little red cherry, with graphite, wild herbs, nutmeg and cinnamon, dried petals, Japanese green tea leaf and pot pourri. Analytically this has incredible complexity, yet its gracious harmony and authenticity conveys just a calm serine simplicity that is utterly captivating. 100.


  • Balocchi di Colore No. 3 2020 (Toscana IGT; 100% Colorino; 3 barrels from the oldest parcel in the Vincigliata vineyard on a clay-loam soil with galestro at an altitude of up to 250 metres with a north-western exposure; the vines are up to 50 years old; vinified after soft-pressing in new open-topped barriques with indigenous yeasts; malolactic and aging in used barriques with 2 years of further  aging in bottle; 14% alcohol). One thinks of Colorino a bit like Petit Verdot in Bordeaux – as seasoning, as colour, as the extension of the palate of the wine-maker – but above all, as something to be used in moderation. So it is remarkable to discover just how good this wine is. In the glass it is radiant in its translucence but much darker – almost black at its core, but with violet and crimson highlights. It is immediately the spiciest of the three balocchi and it has a much darker fruit profile too – plums, dark cherry and damson. The latter brings with it a wonderful sense of freshness (something that defines, albeit in different ways, all three wines). We have hoisin, Szechuan peppercorns, graphite again, black tea leaf, a savoury natural sweetness and a crushed-stone minerality. This is ample, rich, sumptuous and broad-shouldered on the attack and one is immediately struck by the glossy, velvety texture that fills the cheeks. But then fine-grained tannins start to work their magic, first gripping and then pulling and stretching out the mid-palate – creating a wonderfully energetic sense of structural tension between the fruit which seeks breadth and the tannins seeking length. The tannins ultimately win out, carving out the structure of the wine. But the effect is to release a series of little eddies and whirlpools of juicy fresh fruit refreshing the mouth all the way to the long finish. Dark, opulent and ravishingly juicy. 97.


  • Balocchi di Colore No. 8 2020 (Toscana IGT; 100% Canaiolo; 3 barrels from the oldest parcel in the Olmo vineyard on a sandy-clay loam soil full of galestro at an altitude of up to 450 metres with a western exposure; the vines are up from 25 to 50 years old; vinified after soft-pressing in new open-topped barriques with indigenous yeasts; malolactic and aging in used barriques with 2 years of further aging in bottle; 13% alcohol). Light, limpid, wispy, aerial and fully translucent in the glass, this too is a revelation. We have freshly plucked berries – wild strawberries, loganberries, redcurrants, a little cranberry, a hint of pomegranate – accompanied by a beautiful, subtle hint of pink peppercorns, fresh white roses and a touch of sage and laurel, even saffron. Crystalline, pure, precise and sinuous in the mouth, there is a fabulous energy and dynamism to this conveyed largely by the staggering freshness. The clarity of the mid-palate illuminates the layering and the sensation is a little like gliding through a cool deep lake with little under-currants of juicy sapidity rising up to refresh the palate on its long, slow journey to an asymptotic finish. Staggeringly engaging, amazingly complex and wonderfully dynamic, this is a wine that really rewards a decanter – think of it as the picture frame in which the masterpiece is displayed. 98.


  • I Sodi di San Niccolò 2019 (Toscana IGT; 85% Sangiovese; 15% Malvesia Nera; 14% alcohol). The top wine from Castellare di Castellina (though I love their Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggiale too) and a super-subtle Tuscan that has been on great form in recent vintages. This is ethereal and undoubtedly the best vintage of this wine that I have yet to taste. Pretty; aerial; expressively floral – with roses, patchouli and candle wax, Turkish delight, incense, myrrh, cinders and cordite. Black cherry fruit, black tea leaf and dark cedary notes complete the sensory kaleidoscope. Limpid and diaphanous but substantial, dense and compact and with an impressive sense of forward momentum across the palate. This has a lovely fluid, fresh finish where one finds complex mineral and crushed stone elements. A fabulous wine and likely to represent excellent value. 96.


  • Ornellaia 2020 (Toscana IGT; 50% Cabernet Sauvignon; 32% Merlot; 13% Cabernet Franc; 5% Petit Verdot; 14.5% alcohol). Another great Ornellaia. Subtle but evident use of oak, lovely cedar and graphite notes, a touch of iodine and a profound Italianate salinity. There’s a lovely Cabernet Franc florality and the subtle hint of blueberry alongside the glorious dark berry fruit – predominantly bramble, blackberry and cassis, mulberry too. The oak needs time to incorporate and at present it brings a slight dryness to the tannins on the finish – but that will resolve itself in time. There’s a pleasing gentle natural sweetness to this and fine layering through the mid-palate. The overall impression is of a fine, elegant, linear, pure and focussed wine with great aging potential. I love the gentle lift and gracious fantail on the finish. I also rather like its cool slight austerity, with the plunge-pool mid-palate hinting at its drinkability in time. All the ingredients are there but this will reward a decade of deferred gratification in the cellar. 96+.


  • Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Faset 2020 (Barbaresco; 100% Nebbiolo; from just 1 hectare of prime Barbaresco; 13.5% alcohol). Present on la place for the first time in this great vintage, despite the tiny quantities. Pure, light, clean and precise. Elegant and more crystalline that the Michele Chiarlo Barolo offerings. Pure, limpid, smooth and silky, with great refinement and a gracious charm. Crunchy red cherries, a subtle florality, a note of wild thyme and tomato consommé, with a lovely fresh sapidity and an impressive stony minerality that gathers with the fine-grained tannins to produce a second wave of freshness in the mouth. Very long and rolling and rippling on the finish with a gloriously svelte mouthfeel. Very harmonious. Juicy and refreshing. Fragrant and delicious. A very welcome new addition to la place’s ever more impressive Piedmont portfolio. 94.


  • Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio 2019 (Barolo; 100% Nebbiolo; from Michele Chiarlo’s 3 hectares of this prime Barolo MGA; 14% alcohol). Glorious; stylish; elegant yet powerful – the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove. This is immediately open and expressive. Sandalwood, a little graphite, black and green tea, hyacinth and expensive ketchup. Lithe and limpid, compact yet suave and silky – with impressive breadth and amplitude – illustrating the great terroir. Subtle and sleek, with a lovely glossy sheen to the mid-palate. But also a slight sense of austerity – reinforced by the subtle eloquence of the wine-making. Lots of evident minerality and terroir characteristics. Bright, energetic and sapid on the finish. A great wine in a great vintage. 95+.


  • Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio Riserva 2016 (Barolo; 100% Nebbiolo; from a parcel of 0.9 hectares at the core of this iconic Barolo MGA; 14% alcohol). This is fabulous – a product of the total harmony between terroir, vintage and wine-making. Toasty, rich, deep, with a much darker fruit profile and a wonderful sense of depth. But this is, above all, bright, crisp, fresh and lifted too – radiant, energetic and joyously expressive. There’s a hint of cedar alongside the dark and red cherry fruit; mulberries too. Ample. Fluid. Velvety in texture. More opulent than the Cerequio 2019. Super-svelte and as your breath with the wine, the floral elements uncoil, unwind and release becoming brilliantly expressive in the mouth more than on the nose. A fabulous wine with lilac, lavender, heather and wild rosemary. Very complex and slow to reveal its charms – a long and beautiful winding pathway. 97.


  • Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2020 (Barbaresco; 100% Nebbiolo; from Ceretto’s 4.84 hectares of this prime Barbaresco MGA; around 6000 bottles produced; 14% alcohol). Quite simply, this is a lovely wine, impressively dark and concentrated at the core for a Barbaresco, but with all the delicacy and elegance one hopes for from this top Barbaresco MGA. Slightly earthy, with a crushed stone and baked clay minerality, sandalwood and cedar notes too. A little smoke too, but none of this detracts from the star of the show here – the intense, pure, concentrated crushed cherry and berry fruit. There’s a hint of plum flesh too. The impressive density and compactness reminds one constantly of the quality of this vintage. There is great complexity too, with lavender, blood orange, sundried tomatoes, green tea, verbena, and a subtle hint of warn leather. In the mouth this is limpid, fresh, fluid but again compact. White chocolate and lavender notes join the party, alongside crushed violets and pressed rose petals. The fruits clings tightly to a well-defined spine. Overall, this is dark, cool with a subtle austerity to it. Fresh and sapid on the finish. 95.

  • Ceretto Barolo Brunate 2019 (Barolo; 100% Nebbiolo; from Ceretto’s 5.6 hectares of prime Barolo real estate; around 6000 bottles; 14% alcohol). This is immediately richer, fuller, bolder and toastier. Cedar, graphite, a hint of truffle. Staggeringly deep and compact for a wine so lithe and soft and tender too. This has a glorious texture and great amplitude. Juicy cherry flesh, red and darker, with cranberry freshness too and a lovely hint of black tea, incense, lilac and pressed roses. I’ve never tasted a better Brunate. The tannins are so incredibly refined and fine-grained. The essence of Barolo, with sublime evolution over the palate. A fabulous wine that is extraordinarily sapid on the finish. 97.


  • Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche 2019 (Barolo; 100% Nebbiolo; from the 1.46 hectares of this most famous of Barolo addresses, a very rare monopole; just 2000 bottles; 14% alcohol). A very special wine, above all in this remarkable vintage. This is so pure and so aromatically expressive. It is sombre, slightly austere but thoroughly ethereal, with a gracious and yet entirely seductive deep lavender and pink rose florality. There is graphite too and an ultra-pure plump raspberry fruit at first, accompanied by red cherries with more aeration. This is more obviously layered and thicker textured than the Brunate and a little more fore-square in personality. And it is a wine of staggering complexity, even if time will be needed even to begin to decipher its codes. Limpid. Lithe. Linear. Finely delineated and finely-detailed. Ripples of freshness and sapidity alternate with the tannins on the energetic finish. Quite superb. 98+.


  • Ceretto Barolo Cannubi San Lorenzo 2012 (Barolo; 100% Nebbiolo; there are just 0.25 hectares of this and it is available only in magnum; 14% alcohol). This, one might say, is very ‘Ceretto’ with all that elegance and sleek finesse. A little closed at first and crying out for a decanter (one wants to suspend the tasting, pull out one’s favourite carafe and find a luxuriant armchair for a more studied appreciation). But, back in the room and in the absence of that, this is still subtle, delicate, finely-structured and brilliantly crystalline. The texture and mouthfeel are exquisite. Pure, intense and chiselled with lovely detailed layering and fine pixilation. The mid-palate is as if composed of the finest sheets of overlaid silk disappearing into the distant horizon. There is cinnamon, nutmeg, bay and old soft leather (that luxuriant armchair again) and, at its core and constantly, a deep and fresh dark berry fruit. A wine to be treated with respect – and, of course, a great glass, your favourite decanter and considerable patience. 98.


  • Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste 2012 (Barolo Riserva; 100% Nebbiolo; 14,5% alcohol). Part of a mixed case with the 2009 and 2014. Aromatically expressive, much more so than the 2009 or 2014, with much more evident white truffle and trompette de la mort notes. There are medicinal herbs and balm elements too, lots of bay leaf, a hint of sage and blood orange too. There are also pronounced balsamic notes, red liquorice, cinnamon and pain d’épices. In short, this is staggeringly complex as only top terroir Barolo Riserva can be. What I love most is the freshness here, reinforced by the impressive concentration, even if the finish is just a touch dry. The fine-grained tannins sculpt and chisel the wine through the mid-palate, revealing considerable layering as they do so. A great food wine, fascinating in its complexity and, at this stage, a lovely mix of youth and riserva aging. The best of the trio. 94.


  • Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2011 (Barolo Riserva; 100% Nebbiolo; 15% alcohol). Part of a mixed case with the 2009 and 2012. Tasted alongside the 2009 and 2012, this is less balsamic with more black tea and exotic spice notes. There’s also a little hint of peat bringing an almost Islay whisky dimension to this. Baked plums and Asiatic preserved plums, hoisin too, alongside fresher fruit, above all redcurrant and fresh raspberry; there’s also a hint of spearmint. The 2011 feels more integrated and more harmonious than the fireworks of the 2012. And it is less toasted too. Full, rich, ample and quite opulent, this is bold and exuberant but always lithe, elegant and dynamic. Overall, there’s a lovely energy to this and a joyously fresh and sapid finish. Very complex and quite intellectual – a wine for focussed attention. 96.


  • Dal Forno Valpolicella Superiore 2017 (70% Corvina & Corvina Grossa; 20% Rondinella; 5% Oseleta; 5% Croatina; from a vineyard of 34 hectares; 14.5% alcohol). This has a very distinct and rather lovely florality – peonies and hyacinth and a touch of lilac, maybe even a hint of honeysuckle – with marzipan, frangipane, playdough and a little cordite. On the palate, this is slightly disconcerting in its sweetness at first, but rather wonderful when one locks in on it. Fluid, radiantly soft and sinuous, layered and complex but never linear, finely detailed and super juicy on the long wispy and aerial finish. 95.


  • Dal Forno Amarone DOCG 2017 (60% Corvina; 20% Rondinella; 10% Oseleta; 10% Croatina; selected from a vineyard of 34 hectares; 16% alcohol). Completely opaque to the extent that at first this appears black at the core. But actually, not at all. Closer inspection reveals a wondrous cardinal red from which, it seems, no light escapes! On the nose we have precisely the same floral components as in the Valpolicella Superiore, but here in a more intense form – the parfumier’s essence extracted from the same fresh flowers. Fireworks in the glass – literally (the sense of cordite!) and figuratively (wow!). This is incredibly svelte in texture but with quite prominent polished glassy, granular tannins. Deep, rich, profound and wondrous. Plunge-pool velvet with a little spice and vanilla (the expensive kind that comes in a sealed glass test-tube!). Peppers too – baie de Timut, verbena grains and white peppercorns. A magical and unique wine that, in a way, is a little like a top port – Noval perhaps. It is not as racy as the other Amarone on la place and more serious and traditional in a way, but it’s still very special and has a seemingly infinite aging potential. 97+.


  • Dal Forno Amarone DOG 2008 (60% Corvina; 20% Rondinella; 10% Oseleta; 10% Croatina; selected from a vineyard of 34 hectares; 16.5% alcohol). We start from the same florality as in the 2017 but now further accentuated, darker and purer, and more violet-infused – violet essence in the purest form I’ve ever tasted in a red wine. Camphor, incense, candlewax, cough syrup, liquorice, tar, a salinity too to go with the burnt sugar – but overall very much the wine of the high altar mass! With air, a little white truffle – which seems odd. Very port-like and almost at times a little too much for me. Strict and taut and rather four-square in the mouth in seaming contrast to the more gracious and floral nose, this is austere in its focussed precision – and it feels like it needs (even) more time to relax. A baby still at 25 years of age! Fresh and vibrant with incredibly purity and intensity – and, of course, extremely long on the finish. Heady. 97.

Californian releases

Californian releases Vintage Region 1st release? Rating
Acaibo 2017 Sonoma (California) No 95
Cathiard Vineyard 2020 Napa (California) Yes 97+
Chappellet Signature 2019 Napa (California) Yes 96
Chappellet Pritchard Hill 2019 Napa (California) Yes 98
Promontory 2018 Napa (California) No 99
Vérité La Muse 2005 Napa (California) No 97
Vérité La Joie 2005 Napa (California) No 99
Vérité Le Desir 2005 Napa (California) No 99


  • Acaibo (Trinité Estate) 2017 (Sonoma, California; 75% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% Cabernet Franc; 12% Merlot; the fruit is sourced from 24 acres – just under 10 hectares – on volcanic ash and clay loam soils in the cooler Russian River valley and the warmer Alexander and Knights valleys; aged in French oak barrels for 16 months, 65% of which are new; pH 3.74; 13.9% alcohol). The most ‘Bordellais’ Acaibo I’ve tasted and the most Bordellais of this year’s Californian releases on la place. It’s also the strongest vintage to date of this fascinating and distinctive property – with loads of identity and fresh-fruited personality. Bright, crisp, aromatically expressive and with a lovely sense of harmony and integration. Lifted and aerial on the nose, with plump dark berry fruit and a wild herbaceous element from the Cabernet Franc, a little spice from the Merlot. The tannins are taut and tight with a lovely fine yet tactile granularity. Pure cherry and darker berry fruit with a little walnut shell. Pure, precise and tender and with nice delineation and definition across the palate. Bordeaux wine-making with Californian terroir. In sum, this is the most Bordeaux-like of the French Californians. Sonoma with a Bordeaux price-lag and thus likely to represent excellent value. 95.


  • Cathiard Vineyard 2020 (Napa; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.1% alcohol). A first-time release on la place and a powerful, bold and eloquent first statement. At first this is oaky and toasty, with notable cedar and acacia notes. It is also very intensely floral – the gorgeous intoxicating parfumier’s essences and a little hint of firework. There’s also liquorice root and coconut alongside the plump cassis, bramble and mulberry fruit. This is very pure and precise, even more so with aeration – a very good sign. There’s a little hint of smoke and a gentle vanilla sweetness. The mouthfeel is voluptuous, with a subtle Svelte elegance; I have very much the sensation of Bordeaux wine-making in Napa. This has impressive persistence and a beautifully structured mid-palate. A wonderfully stylish Napa-Bordeaux (in)fusion with that lovely freshness on the finish that the Bordellais typically manage to achieve here. 97+.


  • Chappellet Signature 2019 (Napa; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Petit Verdot; 8% Malbec; 3% Merlot; pH 3.78; 14.5% alcohol). Plump and luxuriant, with damson, plum, red and black cherry fruit. Lithe and tended, quite floral and with a lovely wild herbal element too, a hint of bayleaf. On the palate this is gracious and nicely compact, with a well-defined central spine. This is sweet spiced with quite prominent oak influence. There’s incense, camphor and tar, but also a fresher green peppercorn note. Impressively pure, too, on the long and rolling intensely sapid tannins. 96.


  • Chappellet Pritchard Hill 2019 (Napa; 95% Cabernet Sauvignon; 5% Petit Verdot; pH 3.79; 14.5% alcohol). A fabulous wine and another exciting new release on la place. Opaque at the core. So dense, compact and concentrated, but with no sensation of this having been pushed. A lovely florality – violet and lavender notes radiate from the glass and infuse the mid-palate too, which is, in turn, crystalline and velvet in texture. The oak use is more subtle and subdued, with just a delicate hint of expensive vanilla (a single pod in a glass tube). There’s a note of hoisin and some slightly ferrous mineral elements; crushed rock too – in short, nice terroir characteristics from this single vineyard expression. Above all, though, this is fabulous texturally, with lovely grippy, fine-grained tannins. The wine is built around a tight cool core of intense dark berry fruit. Top Napa in a top vintage. 98.


  • Promontory 2018 (Napa; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol). A wondrously archetypal and authentic expression of Napa in all its glory, above all in this vintage. Super-svelte texturally from the outset, with a lovely intense graphite-incrusted dark, dark berry fruit – crushed fresh brambles, a little damson, with wild bilberry coming through too with aeration. A sumptuously cool plunge-pool of a mid-palate, so svelte and juicy with a massive wave of sparkling fresh and crunchy berry fruit refreshing the mouth and elongating further the finish. The purest of pure Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – and it tastes like it. Controlled and taut, texturally sublime, long and gradually descending on the finish but staying fresh and focussed. This tastes rather expensive and is unlikely to disappoint in that respect (or any other)! 99.

  • Vérité La Muse 2005 (Sonoma; 88% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 2% Malbec; with fruit sourced from Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Bennett Valley and Knights Valley; aged for 18 months in new French oak; 14.5% alcohol). Wow! Sparkling energy. Bright, crisp radiant berry fruit and fireworks. A very exciting and engaging wine, with dark chocolate, confit violet and lavender, plum, hoisin and salted liquorice all very evident. There’s also a lovely ferrous minerality that builds in the glass with aeration and has me momentarily in Pomerol. With still greater aeration, a little leather comes through with cordite, candlewax, patchouli and a hint of chanterelles. There’s a profound spiciness to this too which integrates well with the saline minerality. A wine whose structure feels chiselled by the freshness and the salinity together. Very tender and limpid, yet hyper-concentrated with an incredibly dense and compact texture. Still a baby, with so much future potential. 97.


  • Vérité La Joie 2005 (Sonoma; 67% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12% Merlot; 12% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot; 2% Malbec; with fruit sourced from Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Bennett Valley and Knights Valley; aged for 18 months in new French oak; 14.7% alcohol). Gloriously Cabernet on the nose and incredibly profound. This is almost more Cabernet, in a way, for it coming from a blend of varietals – somehow that gives greater tension and, above all, a richer canvas on which the Cabernet can fully reveal itself. So pure and expressive aromatically on the mid-palate. Candlewax, cedar and graphite, struck match, flint and cordite – from the volcanic soil almost directly. Boysenberries, mulberry, lilac and parfumier’s essence of lilac. This lives up to its name and its reputation. Like La Muse, this is intense too and so concentrated and dense, but it is even more fluid with great pick up and forward momentum across the palate – with great sweeps of velvety dark fruit like brush strokes. Lots of crushed black peppercorns and red liquorice too. Chewy tannins on the finish. This actually needs a decade longer to fully soften. It is also very Sonoma and it gains in finesse with aeration as the core becomes more clear. Superb. 99.


  • Vérité Le Desir 2005 (Sonoma; 50% Cabernet Franc; 39% Merlot; 9% Cabernet Sauvignon; 2% Malbec; with fruit sourced from Alexander Valley, Chalk Hill, Bennett Valley and Knights Valley; aged for 18 months in new French oak; 14.4% alcohol). Le Desir indeed – my favourite of the trio and a wine that, like La Joie, shows off its star varietal (here, of course, the Cabernet Franc) so much better for it not being a monocépage. The Cabernet Franc seems to have a broader canvas and more definition and detail by virtue of being supported by the other members of the cast (most notably, the Merlot, but the role played by the Malbec here is almost no less significant). This is floral, yes, but it needs tempting and coaxing. There are, however, lovely green peppercorns, green Szechuan peppercorn and rose peppercorn notes too and then, with air, violet, lilac, hyacinth and a wonderful confit rose petals and rose water element – so gentle and yet so obvious in a wine so dense and concentrated. There’s wild heather too. Sinuous on the opening and diaphanous through the mid-palate (more so than the other), with ribbons of fresh sapid juiciness, but depth, weight and concentration that you wouldn’t get from a monocépage Cabernet Franc. For now this tastes the youngest of the trilogy; but I suspect that La Joie will actually outlive it. Glorious. 99.

Other releases

Other releases Vintage Region 1st release? Rating
Joyau (Boizel) 2008 Champagne (Fr) Yes 93+
Alma (Bodegas Contador) 2020 Rioja (Sp) Yes 95
Cobos Malbec 2018 Mendoza (Arg) No 96
VIK 2019 Cachapoal Valley (Chile) Yes 95
Viñedo Chadwick 2009 Maipo Valley (Chile) Yes NYT
Viñedo Chadwick 2010 Maipo Valley (Chile) Yes NYT
Viñedo Chadwick 2011 Maipo Valley (Chile) Yes NYT
Ao Yun 2019 Shangri-La (China) No NYT

Tasting notes to follow


  • Joyau (Boizel) 2008 (Champagne; from Epernay; 60% Pinot Noir; 40% Chardonnay; 12% alcohol; a dosage of 3g/l; disgorged around 2 years ago). Light with slightly green highlights in the glass, this has spent a long time on the lees. Fascinating and captivating on the nose, with black truffle, apricots, fresh brioche and frangipane. Aromatically, this is naturally quite sweet but none of that comes from the dosage and that produces a wonderful contrast and associated tension with the palate. In the mouth we find confit apples, a little cherry and wild strawberry, a hint of cinnamon too. There’s a lovely bright crisp freshness to this, very notable on the sapid, sleek and slender finish. A lovely citrus vein too. This maybe lacks a little length and is, for now, more striking on the nose than the palate, but it’s likely to represent excellent value and I find it very enticing. 93+.


  • Alma (Bodegas Contador) 2020 (Rioja 2020; from a vineyard of around 5.5 hectares; 92% Tempranillo; 8% Garnacha; 14.5% alcohol). Opaque, purple-rimmed and interestingly very different from all the other wines present in the March campaign. Wild and heathery on the nose, with asiatic sour plums, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and cracked black pepper accompanying the raspberry and loganberry fruit. There’s a distinct note of shoe polish (from my childhood) and old leather. This is quite pure and very saline-encrusted in its minerality. I find the tannins a little dry and it needs time. It is made to last and feels a little like the long-distance runner that needs to circle the track a few more times before we can properly judge the performance. At this stage, it’s certainly lively, racy and energetic. 95.

Latin America

  • Cobos Malbec 2018 (Mendoza, Argentina; 100% Malbec; from a vineyard of 11 hectares; 15% alcohol). From the talented Paul Hobbs and his oenologue, Andres Vignoni. Opaque in the glass, but with lovely blue-purple highlights under the light. Big and rich but svelte and gently textured. Wild and floral too. There’s a hint of cordite, liquorice root, crushed green Szechuan peppercorn, dark cherry and bramble jam and pure fresh briary fruit notes too. Very pure and ultra-soft, engagingly so. This is layered, svelte, stylish and very impressive (if perhaps not quite at the level of the 2019, released last year). Glossy and seemingly weightless despite the mid-palate heft and density here. Fresh and intensely sapid, with a lovely pick up bringing a wave of juiciness to build the finish. Clean and refreshing, with a juicy freshness resembling breakers on the shore. Excellent, once again. 96.


  • VIK 2019 (Cachapoal Valley, Chile; 77% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Cabernet Franc; aged for 20 months in French oak barrels and for 6 months in Barroir barrels; 14.5% alcohol). Limpid, quite viscous and impressively translucent in the glass, this is immediately lifted and quite aerial on the nose with an enticing floral and herbal element, then tobacco, tapenade, sweet baking spices and a touch of vanilla pod accompanying the dark stone fruits, sultana and fig. Svelte on the attack with fine-grained tannins slowly building in presence in the mouth and outlining the impressive structure as they do so. Eucalyptus and menthol coolness combine with the saline minerality on the long finish. The oak needs time to incorporate but the quality of the tannins and the component elements here are very impressive. 95.
Viñedo Chadwick 2009
  • Viñedo Chadwick 2009 (Maipo Valley, Chile; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 15 hectares on an old alluvial terrace; aged in new oak French barrels, 93% of which, are new for 22 month; pH 3.5; 14.5% alcohol; tasted over the ether with Viñedo Chadwick’s wine-maker Francisco Baettig). From a hot, dry vintage, the grapes picked at different times of the day so as to avoid direct exposure to the sun. Sunny. Bright. Smoky. Dried rose petals, strawberries and fresh ripe red berry fruit, just a little residual sugar (2.7 g/l) and lovely subtle hoisin, balsamic and eucalyptus notes. There are also hints of red liquorice and sundried tomatoes. Spicy too – nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron and a little hint of cumin. Complex on the nose and impressively bright and dynamic on the palate. With air, a hint of white truffle emerges. There’s just a suggestion of dryness on the finish, but this is nicely composed and drinking well. 94.


  • Viñedo Chadwick 2010 (Maipo Valley, Chile; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 15 hectares on an old alluvial terrace; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new oak French barrels, 95% of which, are new for 22 month; pH 3.5; 14.5% alcohol; tasted over the ether with Viñedo Chadwick’s wine-maker Francisco Baettig). Fresher still, more floral – and the floral elements are more complex, intermingling confit and dried rose petal notes with fresh blooms. The fruit is darker than the 2009 – mixed dark berry and plum fruit – and there’s a pleasingly prominent crushed rock minerality here too. There’s more spice and a greater sensation of residual sugar too (2.89 g/l, though it perhaps seems higher). Exotically spiced with lovely curry leaf, cumin and coriander notes alongside the cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. I prefer this to the 2009 and it drinks very well today. Lots of charm and lots of personality, though the sweetness is reinforced by rather more oak than I suspect it would now see. 95.
  • Viñedo Chadwick 2011 (Maipo Valley, Chile; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; from a vineyard of 15 hectares on an old alluvial terrace; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; aged in new oak French barrels, 77% of which, are new for 22 month; 14% alcohol; tasted over the ether with Viñedo Chadwick’s wine-maker Francisco Baettig). From a rather cool year with lower than average temperatures across the entire year, this saw less oak than previous vintages. Less evolved and a little darker at the core, this is the most lifted and freshest of the three vintages presented in this late release mixed case. The cool nights seems to seal in the crispness and brightness of the fruit. Fireworks, espresso coffee, eucalyptus, spearmint, fresh and confit petals, pot pourri and a panoply of exotic spices – with cumin, curry leaf and coriander again especially present – and all wrapped around a core of dark berry and stone fruit. What sets this apart is the crystalline purity of the generous mid-palate, the greater layering and, above all, the gracious, opulent density and concentration of the wine as it unfurls. Very impressive indeed and with lots of aging potential still. The closest in style to the most recent releases. 96.


  • Ao Yun 2019 (Shangri La; 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah and 6% Petit Verdot; aged in two phases – the first 5 months in a combination of Chinese earthenware jars and oak barrels, then 10 further months in a combination of new and used oak barrels; a final yield of just 16 hl/ha and an ultra-strict selection; 14.5% alcohol). Another fabulous wine from the talented and extremely dedicated Maxence Dulou. This comes from the longest and latest harvest yet at Ao Yun with picking over 72 days, finishing in the second half of November. Gentle, subtle and a little restrained initially, with the Cabernet Franc showing first and bringing with it a lovely fresh, wild herbal element and a bright spring florality. Next to show is the dark briary plump and crunchy fresh berry fruit – brambles and mulberries, a little wild blueberry too. There’s a little hint of liquorice, some delicate sweet spicing and, with more air, familiar black cherry and cassis notes develop. The tannins are incredibly soft and caressing on the entry and the mouthfeel is sumptuous. But all this elegance and finesse can’t disguise the deep and sensuous mid-palate which is fully charged with dark, rich fresh berry and, again, stone fruit. There’s a lovely rocky and slightly saline minerality to this and the finish is exceptionally well-sustained and impressively ample. The best yet from this magical mountain winery – a wine of great composure, elegance and finesse. 96+.

[updated 27 March to include tasting notes for Viñedo Chadwick 2009, 2010 and 2011]

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