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Stars of the Spring hors Bordeaux campaign – the 2024 edition

On the eve of the spring 2024 edition of La Place’s hors Bordeaux campaign, db correspondent Colin Hay assesses the prospects for these iconic wines which are set to be released in the most difficult market conditions for a decade.

On Thursday morning (29 February) at 9am in Bordeaux, Poggio Antico and Tenuta di Biserno will release between them six magical wines onto La Place de Bordeaux and, in so doing, will hope to kick-start the latest edition of La Place’s hors Bordeaux campaign.

It is perhaps indicative of the character of the prevailing market conditions that the campaign which used to be referred to as ‘the March campaign’ has now being re-christened ‘the spring campaign’. What might once have sold out in a few days it is now difficult to imagine selling through in an entire season.

In this short introduction to the new season’s offerings on La Place, I reflect on the market conditions that will shape the campaign and determine its success, consider how those market conditions have affected the selection of the wines to be released before identifying some of the potential highlights of the campaign. As usual, my full tasting notes appear below.

Stick or twist? The market dilemma

It is now almost a cliché of understatement to suggest that the market conditions in and around Bordeaux and the fine wine market more generally are dire. They were terrible for Bordeaux en primeur 2022, they were significantly worse still for the September hors Bordeaux releases on La Place and they have yet to improve.

There are multiple factors at work here, many of them explored in greater detail in db’s recent podcast.

The bottom line is, however, the cost of borrowing. For a new hors Bordeaux release to be available to purchase on the secondary market, just like a new en primeur release, it needs to be bought first by a négociant. When market conditions were good and the cost of borrowing was low, this was not a problem. But neither is true today. With the cost of capital for most négociants at perhaps three times that they were paying scarcely a year ago and with the secondary market awash with (sometimes quite heavily) discounted back vintages of the same wines, the economic fundamentals have been transformed. The incentive to borrow further at what would previously have been considered exorbitant rates to take on a new allocation of a wine one struggled to sell last time is not great.

But here a second bottom line enters the equation. For négociants need transactions. They live or die on the margin they take on each sale. And they cannot just rely on depleting whatever stock remains in their warehouses, not least as the stock that they are warehousing has already failed to attract the interest of a potential buyer. In short, however more selective they may now be when it comes to accepting an allocation, they cannot afford to refuse all and every allocation they are offered. They are, in the end, jugglers, managing more or less judiciously the trade-off between escalating borrowing and storage costs on the one hand, and the prospect of the sales on which they depend to service their debt on the other.

The spring hors Bordeaux campaign and, perhaps more significantly still, the Bordeaux 2023 en primeur campaign that will follow almost immediately, present essentially the same stark choice – to stick or to twist?

It is, of course, difficult to predict exactly what the négociants will do, and their strategies will no doubt vary. But there are perhaps two things that can already be said. Firstly, we will learn quite a lot about the prospects for the Bordeaux 2023 en primeur campaign to come from the choices they make in the next two to three weeks. And secondly, it is likely in my view that many négociants will be adopting a conservative stance with respect to both campaigns – taking not their full potential allocation of any given wine but an allocation sufficient to cover only what they know they can sell immediately.

That sounds bleak. But there is perhaps a silver lining to the economic cloud, possibly two – though they are linked sequentially. The first is that prospective market sentiment is starting to change. Vinexpo in Paris earlier this month was a rather more positive experience for the négociants than they had assumed it would be when they boarded their north-bound TGVs at Bordeaux’s Gare St Jean. To be clear, it is not that they were deluged with fresh orders. But time and again and from export region to export region, they were pleased by what they heard from new and existing importers about the potential demand for new releases.

The second factor is that if such prospective demand turns into tangible orders in March and, additionally, many négociants have indeed been conservative in the confirmation of their hors Bordeaux allocations, this spring might well turn out to be a very good time to purchase these wines. For their supply to the market is likely to be constrained and that could see demand outstrip supply for the first time in quite a long time.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If this happens it is much more likely for some releases than others. But, quite honestly, I was not expecting to be writing a paragraph like the previous one even a month ago. It is now just about credible to believe that the March releases could coincide with the bottoming-out of the market. More likely is that we are not quite there yet. Either way, we will know quite soon.

The structure of the campaign

So, what are the implications of all of this for the wines that will be released through La Place in the next three weeks? Perhaps surprisingly, not as great as you might think.

For outwardly, at least, it seems not a great deal has changed. This time last year around 60 separate wines were released to the market in the March campaign. This year I have tasted already some 65 wines, with a number of additional wines either still wending their way to Paris as I type or not available for tasting at all given the miniscule quantity and legendary status of the proposed release.

As that suggests, overall there will be a modest further increase in the number of March releases. That is certainly notable and impressive given the prevailing market sentiment.

But the picture is a little more complex than that perhaps suggests. Crucially, and certainly no less impressively, I see no evidence of properties having withdrawn from La Place. Indeed, the only property that is not releasing a wine this March having done so (and for the first time) last March is Chappellet from St Helena, California. And Chappellet’s absence from this spring’s campaign I attribute simply to the fact that the next logical release for them would have been for the difficult (sometimes smoke-tainted) 2020 vintage. If I am right in my surmise, they are far from the only Californian produced not to have offered to La Place at this stage their 2020 vintage. Their absence, in other words, has little or nothing to do with market conditions – or that, at least, is the inference I draw.

But it is not quite true to suggest that there are no casualties of the deterioration in market sentiment over the last 12 months. For last March saw the release – in effect, the re-release through La Place – of a limited number of back vintages of wines whose new release on La Place typically takes place in September (Vérité and Viñedo Chadwick to name but two). Quite understandably such releases have been postponed, as has that of Bibi Graetz’s limited production Balocchi di Colore mixed case. It makes little or no sense to release such wines until the market mood music switches from a minor to a major key. And, as soon as it does, we can expect to see a flurry of little releases of this kind.

Taken together that already presents quite a positive picture. But arguably more impressive still is the number – and, indeed, the sheer quality – of the first-time releases on La Place. It is undoubtedly the case that some potential new releases have been temporarily postponed for some of the same reasons already discussed. But even given that, the number of genuine new releases is considerable.

Amongst them we have Stag’s Leap S. L. V. from the Napa Valley (the legendary Cabernet Sauvignon which famously claimed top spot in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting). We have too, the six new releases from Penfolds Luxury & Icon portfolio (including, of course, Grange itself), the six iconic Australian legends which together comprise the Australian Ark Collection mixed case (released to coincide with the publication of Andrew Caillard’s magisterial three volume history of Australian wine since 1788), Clos du Lican from Casa Lapostelle, the truly sublime first two single vineyard Brunelli di Montalcino from Poggio Antico and Talenti, three new wines from Errazuriz’ Las Pizarras vineyard and Parusso’s village Barolo.

What this shows definitively is the continued appetite of many of the world’s greatest wine producers to seek the distribution system that only La Place can offer – and the continued willingness of La Place to offer these wines to a global market.

The stars of the spring releases

That brings us to the wines themselves. What is clear is that this is a staggeringly strong offering from La Place de Bordeaux – certainly the strongest spring hors Bordeaux campaign to date. It is so for two principal reasons. The first is that, especially with some of this year’s legendary new additions, the strength in diversity of the offering is remarkable and unprecedented. The second is rather more serendipitous – the ‘sweet spot’ combination of region and vintage that happens to come to the market this March. We have Barolo from the fabulous 2020 vintage, Barbaresco from the possibly even greater 2021 vintage. We have Brunello di Montalcino from 2019 and the (more or less demonstratively ‘Super’) Tuscans from 2020 and 2021. From Napa, the trio of great wines on offer come from 2021 and 2019 (and not from the troubled 2020 vintage) and from Champagne we have wines from 2012. What is there not to like here?

Given this, it is more difficult than ever to pick a handful of star releases. So let me simply list (in no particular order) a few of my absolute favourites and a few wines which represent, for me, extraordinary potential value for money at a variety of price-points.

Star releases:

  • Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2019
  • Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Vigna I Poggi 2019
  • Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2017
  • Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2018
  • Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche 2020
  • Ao Yun 2020
  • Stag’s Leap S. L. V. 2021
  • Cathiard Vineyards 2021
  • Promontory (Harlan) 2019
  • Grange 2019 (Penfolds)
  • Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 (Penfolds)
  • Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay 2018 (Penfolds)

Value Picks:

  • Poggio Antico Rosso di Montalcino 2022
  • Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Faset 2021
  • Alma (Bodega Contador) 2021
  • I Sodi San Niccolo (Castellare di Castellina) 2020
  • L’Aventure Optimus 2020
  • Acaibo 2018
  • Champagne Boizel Joyau 2012

Tasting notes

A note on the notes that follow: As regular readers will know, I am the Bordeaux and La Placede 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, 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.

 The Australian Ark Collection

A special limited release of just under 600 6-bottle mixed cases together with a limited linen-bound edition of Andrew Caillard MW’s authoritative and exhaustive three-volume magnus opus charting the history of Australian wine since 1788, The Australian Ark.

Tyrrell’s Vat No. 1 Sémillon 2013 (Hunter Valley; 100% Sémillon; 11.5% alcohol). Incredibly youthful and very fresh. Crisp. Lifted. Flinty. Struck match. Quinine. Tense and zesty, with prominent lime and grapefruit notes, impressively so for a monocépage Sémillon with a decade of age (under screwcap, of course). Orange blossom, passionflower and passion fruit. Walnut shell. Gooseberry leaf. Oyster shell. Candlewax. Ginger. Intense aromatically and exceptionally complex. Limpid with an open, glassy, texture and quite viscous in form. There are more exotic notes in the mid-palate. Long, fluid and with great clarity. The citrus notes from the nose return only on the finish, book-ending the exotic fruits. Ample but with the breadth reined in by the acidity that penetrates from the edges and gently sculpts the contours of the wine over the palate. 96.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River; 100% Chardonnay; 14% alcohol). Apparently, Andrew Caillard tells me, the Chardonnay here is from the Gingin clone whose provenance passes through California in the 19th century, but which comes originally from Meursault. Breezy. Creamily textured (somehow you can tell that even from the nose). Richly textured. Peach and pear and something of the texture of the skin of each. Round and plump. A touch of residual sugar but lots of compensating citrus-inflected acidity. Saffron. Butter. Buttercups. Despite the slight oily richness, this is tight and crystalline, agile and with freshness coursing through its veins. Tense. A note of citrus butter, fresh grapes and blanched almonds on the long finish. 94.

Mount Mary Quintet Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Yarra Valley, Victoria; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.2% alcohol). Founded in 1956, making this a 60th vintage release. Dense, intense and concentrated. Incense and graphite, with loamy/earthy undertones supporting the dark berry and stone fruits. Spicy, but herbal too – notable sage notes, a little mint leaf too and cassis. In the mouth this has quite a compact frame which merely intensifies the sense of concentration. Dense and chewy, long and gently rippling on the finish, with the tannins eventually breaking through the surface and releasing little waves of juicy sapidity. This actually gains in freshness as it breathes in the air. 97.

Yalumba The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz 2018 (Barossa Valley; 100% old vine Shiraz; aged in 100 litre French and American oak octaves; 14.5% alcohol). The oak is more restrained than you might imagine – this is, after all, named after the wood in which the wine is matured for nearly 2 years. Bright, fresh, quite lifted and both spicy but also crisp and enticingly herb tinged. A little vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon stick, and clove, but also garrigue notes accompanying the baked plum, red cherry and plump red berry fruit. A second tasting reveals more black raspberry notes. Soft, fine-grained tannins and an immediately pleasing sense of tension between the richness and opulence of the fruit and the acidity and tannic grip which both contribute to draw the wine back to the spine as it evolves and stretches itself out over the palate. That gives this an impressive sense of structure, revealing its aging potential. Sapid and fresh on the finish. 95.

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2018 (Eden Valley; 100% Shiraz; from 16 hectares on red-brown loam and clay; aged in 27% new and 73% seasoned oak for 20 months; 14.5% alcohol). From old-vine Shiraz – most of it over 50 years of age now. A vineyard, Andrew Caillard tells me, whose name was changed after the de-Germanisation of place names following the war. Exotic. Exciting. Amazingly lifted and aerial aromatically. Sloes, mulberries and assorted dark berry fruits. Very fresh. Croquant (as the French would say, or ‘crisp’) – rarely so in my experience for a wine with this much concentration. A hint of cordite and struck match – a potentially dangerous combination. Distinctive and unique. Inky. A touch of cedar and acacia. But what I love most in the clarity and luminosity of the mid-palate. It’s a privilege to taste this iconic wine. It doesn’t disappoint. 98.

Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz 2016 (Clare Valley; 100% Shiraz; 14% alcohol). Mint and eucalyptus. Incense. Very expressive aromatically. Pure. Crystalline. Cedary. Intense black liquorice notes. A wine of considerable viscosity, but beautiful precision and clarity. Limpid. Dense. Intense but not at the expense of precision. That’s what’s really impressive here. Indeed, this is almost sinuous despite the density – it’s like taking an ocean liner on a slalom course! Glacially pure and gently rippling on the delightfully chewy, crumbly finish. 98.

Italian releases (red)

Vintage Region New? Rating
Parusso Barolo 2020 Piedmont Yes 90
Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Faset 2021 Piedmont No 94
Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio 2020 Piedmont No 95
Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2021 Piedmont No 95+
Ceretto Barolo Brunate 2020 Piedmont No 95
Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche 2020 Piedmont No 97
Ceretto Barolo Riserva Cannubi San Lorenzo 2013 Piedmont No NYT
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste* 2009 Piedmont No 93
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste* 2012 Piedmont No 94
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste* 2017 Piedmont No 95+
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi* 2011 Piedmont No 96
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi* 2012 Piedmont No 95
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi* 2014 Piedmont No 94+
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi* 2015 Piedmont No 95
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi* 2017 Piedmont No 97+
Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi* 2018 Piedmont No 97
Poggio Antico Rosso di Montalcino 2022 Toscana No 92+
Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana No 95
Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2018 Toscana No 97
Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Vigna I Poggi 2019 Toscana Yes 99
Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana No 99
Talenti Rosso di Montalcino 2022 Toscana No 89
Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana No 92
Talenti Pierro Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana Yes 94
Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana No 92+

Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva

Ripe al Convento

2018 Toscana No 93+
Giodo Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana No 95
I Sodi di San Niccolo (Castellare di Castellina) 2020 Toscana No 96
Lucente 2021 Toscana No 88
Luce 2021 Toscana No 91
Luce Brunello di Montalcino 2019 Toscana No 92
Luce Lux Vitis 2020 Toscana No 94
Biserno 2021 Toscana No 96
Il Pino di Biserno 2022 Toscana No NYT
Le Volte Dell’Ornellaia 2022 Toscana No 89
Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia 2021 Toscana No 90
Ornellaia 2021 Toscana No 96
Guado Al Tasso 2021 Toscana No NYT
Tignanello 2021 Toscana No NYT
Dal Forno Valpolicella DOC Superiore 2016 Veneto No 94
Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2016 Veneto No 95+
Dal Forno Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2010 Veneto No 94

* – in mixed cases of 3 vintages

Parusso Barolo 2020 (100% Nebbiolo; 14.5% alcohol). The first release of this wine on La Place(following on from the release of the single-vineyard Baroli in September). It comes from Parusso’s holdings of 2 hectares in Montforte d’Alba. Fresh. Lifted. That juicy signature of the vintage. Sapidity is evident even from the nose. Roses, black tea, black coffee grains, a little pepper, vanilla, some red berries – raspberry predominantly, sour cherry too – and a certain smokiness. Quite classic. But oaky – more and more as it breathes. Substantial. Oddly lactic in the mid-palate and, for me, this lacks a touch of delicacy. It certainly needs time, the tannins remaining a little rustic for now. Not the finesse of the other wines in the Barolo flight. But a pleasing limpidity. Just a little dry on the finish where one senses too the alcohol. Roses in the empty glass. 90.

Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco Faset 2021 (100% Nebbiolo; from Michele Chiarlo’s 1 hectare holding in the Faset MGA; 14% alcohol). Fine, elegant, with wonderfully poised and crystalline, pixilated red berry fruit, pink rose petals and wild herbs. This is delicate and soft. No evident spice notes. A little sundried tomato. Very pure, very elegant and lifted. Plunge-pool, cool and subtly authoritative. Those Barbaresco Nebbiolo tannins are very fine and they carefully and very gently sculpt the structure. Really pleasing. One feels the quality of the vintage here immediately. A coup de coeur. The best vintage of this I’ve tasted. 94.

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio 2020 (100% Nebbiolo; from Michele Chiarlo’s 1 hectare holding in the iconic Cerequio vineyard; 14% alcohol). This is immediately fuller and more balsamic. Richer. Very aerial and lifted; vertical aromatically. Pure, crystalline and with strikingly pixilated fruit once more – raspberry and loganberry here, as if painted in great detail with the finest of brushstrokes. Gracious. Plump. Plush. This almost glistens as it glides over and caresses the palate. The tannins are soft and supple, gently supporting the long and exquisite finish. Deceptively substantial. Really superb. Another ‘best from here’ from Michele Chiarlo in this fabulous vintage. So pure fruited and with great clarity. 95.

Ceretto Barbaresco Bernadot 2021 (100% Nebbiolo; from Ceretto’s 4.84 hectares in the Bernadot MGA; 14% alcohol). Beautiful. Lifted aromatically, very composed, a little understated – but it is more that this is subtle than that it is closed. Calm. Patchouli and miniature rose petals, maybe rose blossom too, a little fine leaf tea. Substantial for a Barbaresco but gentle, engaging and with impressive substance – a touch of blood and iron in the mid palate. Plump, plush and juicy. Lovely minerality accentuating the bright, fresh fruit. Limpid and lithe despite the substance. The tannins though ultra-fine grained and considerable and will assure a safe and long passage over time. 95+.

Ceretto Barolo Brunate 2020 (100% Nebbiolo; from Ceretto’s 5.60 hectares in the Brunate MGA; 14.5% alcohol). Bloodier, richer, more punchy and again very lifted and vertical, like a flower bursting from the surface of the wine. Glistening. Crystalline, clear, pure and radiant. Sour cherries very evident, again with great purity and clarity, then more of a herbal note from the lower palate and around the edges as if conveyed by the tannins. Violets and a little lavender too. Dark and quite rich but gloriously translucent and soft at the core. Considerable intensity and concentration and with lots of vivid energy. Austere on the finish, but nicely so. Excellent. This has lovely terroir expression, very much Ceretto’s signature in recent vintages. 95.

Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche 2020 (100% Nebbiolo; from Ceretto’s holdings of this iconic MGA of just 1.46 hectares; 14% alcohol). More ample, even more glacially pure – like a mountain stream with lots of energy. This sparkles like sunlight catching the fluidity of the flow. Loganberry. Assorted rose petals gently crushed. Sundried tomato and, on the palate, a little tapenade with the salinity that suggests. A little espresso coffee note (but very subtle). Ample, rich but hyper fluid and crystalline (the word to describe all of these Ceretto wines). This needs time but already deliciously plump and juicy, the tannins releasing waves of freshness on the very long and gradually tapering finish. Great terroir expression, once again, and, of course, a great terroir – what’s not to like. Find yourself a decanter, an armchair and a big glass. 97.

Ceretto Barolo Riserva Cannubi San Lorenzo 2013 (Barolo; 100% Nebbiolo; there are just 0.25 hectares of this and it is available only in magnum; 14% alcohol). Due to the tiny size of the release this was not made available for tasting.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste 2009 (100% Nebbiolo; though Borgogno own 6.75 hectares of the Liste MGA, very little of that make it into the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol; first tasted in February 2023 and re-tasted a year later). A little more closed at first than the other Borgogno Liste wines. More saline and balsamic but with nice freshness again. Eucalyptus oil, bay leaf, a more plum stony fruit character. A hint of truffle and girolles. A gentle sweetness – a hint of frangipane after 30 minutes in the glass. A little toast. Full and rich on the palate and with a lovely density and concentration for aged Nebbiolo. Layered, a little dry and powdery on the finish – something you don’t find with the younger vintages. Ketchup and balsamic notes. Maybe a little less floral and without the complexity of the 2012, but a pleasing sense of gravitas and concentration, nonetheless. Juicy and refreshing on the finish. The closest in style and form to this is the 2014, but you also sense the evolution in the wine-making – the wines after 2015, and above all the 2017 and 2018 attaining a level never before achieved. 93.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste 2012 (Barolo Riserva; 100% Nebbiolo; though Borgogno own 6.75 hectares of the Liste MGA very little of that make it into the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol; first tasted in February 2023 and re-tasted a year later). Aromatically expressive, much more so than the 2009 or 2014, with much more evident white truffle and trompette de la mort (black chanterelle) 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 2009, 2012, 2014 trio that I first tasted just over a year ago but not at the level of the most recent vintages. 94.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Liste 2017 (100% Nebbiolo; though Borgogno own 6.75 hectares of the Liste MGA very little of that make it into the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol). Lovely. Intense. Powerful yet refined. Very intellectual in its complexity, its subtlety and its harmony (and I find more harmony here than in the younger vintages). Red berry fruit – raspberries and loganberries. Open-textured and yet quite ample too. Radiant and quite vibrant. Glossy and clear. With air, strawberries. The purest linen-strained tomato consommé too. Crystalline and very sapid. A little coffee note. Leather (from a new wallet). Cherry cough syrup. Quite naturally sweet. A little wild marjoram. Rose petals. Chewy, substantial tannins give this a long aging potential. Much more fresh than the 2012. Needs a decanter, a big glass, an armchair and patience. 95+.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2011 (Barolo Riserva; 100% Nebbiolo; Borgogno’s plantings in this iconic MGA amount to 1.30 hectares, but little of that makes the selection for the Riserva; 15% alcohol). First tasted alongside the 2009 and 2012 in February 2023, 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.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2012 (100% Nebbiolo; Borgogno’s plantings in this iconic MGA amount to 1.30 hectares, but little of that makes the selection for the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol). Spicy. Rich. Very balsamic and like a spiced homemade ketchup – Boston beans, with fresh ripe tomatoes! Worcester Sauce. Liquorice. Exceptionally complex. Fireworks with lots of cordite. Impressive density to each layered and quite layered. A bit of a bruiser; and yet loads of finesse. Toasted brioche. Nutmeg. Layered. Deep and concentrated. Impressive. Lots of roasted coffee beans. Superb freshness and a lovely limpid texture despite the impressive concentration. Sapid and juicy. Long with a lovely fantail. Naturally quite sweet. Hoisin too. I find this a bit umami with very evident sweet and sour elements, alongside the savoury and the saline. Considerable tannins – this really needs a decade longer. Powerful stuff. Cool on the finish too. Perhaps more fascinating that beautiful but undoubtedly impressive. 95.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2014 (100% Nebbiolo; Borgogno’s plantings in this iconic MGA amount to 1.30 hectares, but little of that makes the selection for the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol). Radiant and rather beautiful aromatically. Soft, quite gentle but effusive and intoxicating at the same time. There’s a fascinating slightly incense-smoke verticality here, like a flume of smoke from a highly scented candle streaming upwards. Balsamic and ketchup notes, sundried tomatoes, just a little Kalamata tapenade, leather and assorted ripe red berry fruits. Scorched sand. On the palate this is silky and cool on the attack, though the tannins remains quite considerable, and they work with the acidity to disrupt the pretensions of the fruit to relax and spread itself horizontally. Juicy and fresh on the long slightly crumbly finish. Maybe not quite at the level of the 2015 but a fascinating and still very age-worthy Barolo from this iconic vineyard. 94+.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2015 (100% Nebbiolo; Borgogno’s plantings in this iconic MGA amount to 1.30 hectares, but little of that makes the selection for the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol). From a warm and sunny vintage. Dark raspberry and even a touch of mulberry. Black and green tea leaf. Delicate aromatics but one senses the power from the nose. Smoky, earthy, a touch of fresh leather – just a little oxidative too. On the palate this is cool, glacial, opulent and deeply seductive. It has lovely breadth and the crystallinity allows one to feels the eddies and up-currents circulating from below. Powerful but silky, satinous even, and intensely layered. A brilliant wine of great complexity and interest – quite intellectual. Warrants attention and commands it. One feels the gentle warmth of the vintage (in fact it was very hot, but it’s softened here). Texturally excellent and this really cries out for a larger glass. 95.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2017 (100% Nebbiolo; Borgogno’s plantings in this iconic MGA amount to 1.30 hectares, but little of that makes the selection for the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol). Plasticene – I’m thinking the cartoon character Morph (remember him?). Considerable. Earthy. Red berry and cherry fruit – sour and fresh cherries. Somewhat unusual and very different and more subtle aromatically than when tasted before. Fireworks. Rose petals. A hint of wild lavender. Super cool and luminous. Lots of nuance and detail. Pixilated by the tannins. Substantial (from the 10% or so whole bunch fermentation). A little balsamic note. Sundried tomatoes. Dried herbs. Red peppercorns. Chewy plump tannins. Great intensity and concentration despite the breadth. This has a big frame and yet a wonderfully glacial, open and fluid texture. Very much a vin de garde. 97+.

Borgogno Barolo Riserva Cannubi 2018 (100% Nebbiolo; Borgogno’s plantings in this iconic MGA amount to 1.30 hectares, but little of that makes the selection for the Riserva; 14.5% alcohol). Conventionally, a softer vintage but here really powerful for the vintage. Lighter in colour and extraction than the 2017. Great puissance and intensity. The frame is a little narrower accentuating the density and the sense of compactness. Macchiato coffee. Cinnamon bark. Lavender and violet. Black tea leaf. This is punchy Barolo from a top terroir. Spicy. But naturally so, the spices are very much more from the terroir than the oak. Gravelly, earthy, with wild herbal undertones. Less girth but just as much or more amplitude. Really impressive. Wild roses. Wild heather. Wild herbs. Wild! I love it. That said, it still needs to be tamed a little by age, but it is already so plump, plush, chewy and delicious. Hyper sapid and juicily fresh too. Extraordinary length on the finish. My heart is with the 2018 even if the 2017 is, logically, the better wine. 97.

Poggio Antico Rosso di Montalcino 2022 (Rosso di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 14.5% alcohol). A change in register after the Piedmont wines. Bright, herbal, fresh and pure. Earthy – a baked clay path. Quite dense in a way, but sinuous and lithe too. Very oak-free wine-making – or that’s the feel here. Sage. Plump berries. Very impressive at the price point. So fresh and crunchy. A touch of dried herbs, some fresh, so wild spring flowers. Lots of energy. Delightful. Easy to appreciate but not easy to make. Unpretentiously excellent. 92+.

Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). One of the coolest vineyards in the appellation and it gives so much to work with here. Earthy. Spicy. Fresh herbal elements and that brilliantly crystalline mid-palate – like a dark lake at night, or the very early morning as the mist clears. Quietly shimmering. Dynamic, though with upwelling under-currents. Lavender. Violet. Wild roses. Wild thyme and rosemary. Brilliant. A wine of considerable purity. So juicy. A star of the appellation. Taut and tense and supremely vivid. You want to drink this now. 95.

Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2018 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). More intense, more powerful, with a slightly tighter frame and marginally less fruit clarity perhaps on the nose. But wait until you get to the palate! More sour cherries alongside the fresh berry fruits. A little balsamic note. Tapenade. Lavender. Wild rosemary. Marjoram. This is quite saline in its minerality with a hint of iodine too. Again, so mouth-energizingly juicy. Lots of vivid and vibrant splashes of fruit – indeed, it’s a fire-hydrant of freshness. Brilliant. Zingy. Sapid and grippy with great intensity. 97.

Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Vigna I Poggi 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 2.5 hectares; 100% Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). A first time on La Place and a first vintage of this single-vineyard wine. One of the freshest, highest and coolest sites in the appellation. So much freshness is to be found here in this wondrous vintage and it’s been beautifully captured and channelled into the bottle. We ratchet up here the terroir herbal notes. There’s a note of heather and assorted freshly harvested wild pasture herbs. Baked clay path. Violets. Peony. Lavender. Black tea leaf. Crushed rose petals. Loganberries, perfectly ripe and hanging on the plant begging to be cleanly removed from their husks. Incredibly intense and both vertical and horizontal aromatically. Dense and compact yet plunge-pool clear and limpid – like a deep dark lake that you can see all the way to the bottom of. Wonderful tannins achieve a magical degree of pixilation. Such finesse and precision. Spectacular wine-making and a singular terroir in a truly great vintage. I’m in raptures. I’ve tasted this three times now since the project was launched and I love this wine. It has great aging potential but you just want to dive right in (the plunge-pool thing once again). 99.

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; certified organic; 14% alchohol). First released through La Place in December 2023. This is radiant aromatically and even more impressive than the 2018 that had me in raptures this time last year. It’s also a little more restrained and one has more of the sensation that there is very much more to come beyond the fresh flush of youth that is immediately on display, beautiful though that is. There’s a gracious gentle natural sweetness, like the first warming touches of the sun’s rays after a clear summer’s night. There is also a beautiful combination of floral and herbal aromatics gently enrobing the red cherry, loganberry and strawberry fruit. On the palate this forms an almost perfect and quite ample cylinder in the mouth, slightly pushing at the cheeks and then the most silky ultra-fine-grained tannins arrive, subtly but authoritatively sculpting the contours of the mid-palate but never penetrating the crystalline, glacial tranquillity of the cool centre. The rose petal and saffron notes from the nose return on the finish which is sustained all the way to a very distant vanishing point on the horizon. Very special and utterly fabulous. 99.

Talenti Rosso di Montalcino 2022 (Rosso di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). Dusty. Earthy. This feels a little extracted and is certainly less refined than the Poggio Antico equivalent. But it’s still likely to represent excellent value. Black tea leaf. Juicy, sapid raspberry on the palate. A touch of sucrosity perhaps. But I like this. They’ve done a wonderful job of keeping the freshness. Simple, bright and deliciously moreish. 89.

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 14.5% alcohol). Plush, pulpy, fresh and sapid. Juicy. Engaging. Not especially complex but direct and quite vivid. Quite long too – the fruit channelled through a narrow, tight frame, slowly tapering towards a long if slender finish. Good value. Easy drinking. 92.

Talenti Pierro Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 1.95 hectares; 100% Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). Another new wine on La Place and another single-vineyard expression of Brunello from this great vintage. Much more engaging than the multi-vineyard Brunello and more densely charged; much more spicy too. Parfumier’s essences – a bit like walking into the parfumier’s laboratory. Quite exotic in its spices too. Lavender. Cloves. Almost a hint of curry leaf and coriander. Sundried tomatoes. One feels the kiss of the sun of the vintage. The tannins are just a little dry but there’s plenty of freshness too. Distinctive. 94.

Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 14.5% alcohol). Odd at first and needs time to settle in the glass. Not what I was expecting. Lithe, certainly, with dark berry fruit and a distinct loamy earthy note. A little wild herbal element too. Mulberry. I do like the nose, once it settles, though it’s a little syrupy. On the palate, too, this is decided sweet on the entry but then this turns towards more leafy cassis notes alongside the plumper slightly baked stone fruit and sweet spice notes. Not in total harmony and the tannins, though releasing sapidity, I find just a little dry. 92+.

Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Ripe al Convento 2018 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). Quite oak-spicy. Somewhat saturated and with no great definition or delineation. Candlewax. Exotic and oriental spices. Curry leaf; coriander; cumin. Toasted brioche. Peppercorns. Struck match and barbeque smoke. Dark berry and stone fruits but all a little indistinct and blitzed – more a purée than a bowl of fruit. But there’s a pleasing luminosity on the palate. Chewy tannins break up the limpidity a little, but this is fine and well-made. 93+.

Giodo Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Toscana IGT; 100% Sangiovese; 14.5% alcohol). In fact this was released in December 2023. Spicy, stylish and very authentically ‘of Brunello’. But not overdone. Fresh and floral; bright and elegant. Lots of candlewax. Green tea. A little cinnamon – but subtle in its spiciness. Crushed peppercorns. Limpid, fluid, lithe and concentrated but not heavy at all and helped in that by the stony minerality. Great Brunello authenticity. Sapid. As you can tell, I rather like this. 95.

I Sodi di San Niccolo (Castellare di Castellina) 2020 (Toscana IGT; 88% Sangiovese; 15% Malvesia Nera; 14% alcohol). Lovely. Dark and lighter cherry fruit, quite intensely so. A pleasing natural sucrosity immediately evident aromatically. Candlewax. Acacia. Sandalwood perhaps. Impressively spice-light and pure. Vibrant, cool and dark in its fruit profile in the mouth with great purity. A little espresso note. A touch of pleasing austerity. Fresh and more glistening in its clarity on the palate than the more substantial and perhaps more age-worthy 2019 but I prefer this. Vivid. Natural. Energetic. And likely to represent super value. 96.

Lucente 2021 (IGT Toscana; Merlot & Sangiovese; 14% alcohol). Nice cassis fruit and leaf notes aromatically. A little sweet perhaps on the palate. Lacks concentration and fruit density. Easy, but lacks complexity and perhaps a little finesse. There is, however, some compensating tension. Strangely, not unlike some Bordeaux 2021s, if a little sweeter and more saline in its minerality. A bit of a dip in the mid-palate. 88.

Luce 2021 (IGT Toscana; Merlot & Sangiovese; 15% alcohol). Oaky. Fireworks. Candlewax. Sweet spices. Vanilla. Cassis. A saline-ferrous mineral element. A bit too much ‘hot vintage meet oak’ character for my taste, above all aromatically. Better, initially, on the palate, until the sucrosity kicks in. A little unbalanced. Chewy on the finish. Needs time. 91.

 Luce Brunello di Montalcino 2019 (Brunello di Montalcino; 100% Sangiovese; 14.5% alcohol). Slightly flat but there’s less obvious oak. More tension and with a pleasing leafiness. Tight and with the gain in intensity that comes with this being stretched over quite a slender frame. The tannins shade towards the dry-side. Powerful and charged but lacking the finesse of some of the its neighbours. 92.

Luce Lux Vitis 2020 (IGT Toscana; Cabernet Sauvignon & Sangiovese; 14.5% alcohol). Vanilla sweet. A touch of balsam. Fresh. Cassis, dark berry fruit and a touch of leafiness. Sweet spices. More gravelly than the others. More vertical range, too, with the Cabernet Sauvignon really helping. A lovely touch of graphite. The best of these, but still a little oaky in its youth. 94.

Biserno 2021 (IGT Toscana; 35% Cabernet Franc; 32% Merlot; 29% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Petit Verdot; 14.5% alcohol). Lovely. Rich, deep, dark and intensely fruity with a tonne of Cabernet depth – dark berries – plump mulberries and pulpy blueberries, brambles too. All very briary. Graphite and cedar. A sublime and elemental freshness. Herbal notes. Lilies. Violet. Cool and plump and with a lovely graciously defined cylindrical core. The Cabernet Franc is glorious and so pure, but well supported by the power of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the spice and pepper from the Petit Verdot. Yummy. 96.

Le Volte dell’Ornellaia 2022 (Bolgheri DOC; 51% Cabernet Sauvignon; 44% Merlot; 5% Petit Verdot; 13% alcohol). Easy. Plump. Nice chewy bright crunchy berry fruits – red and darker, a little cherry too. A tad sweet perhaps but juicy and fresh. Fun and easy. Quaffable. No great length and this fades quickly, but the signature of each varietal is there. 89.

Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia 2021 (Bolgheri DOC; 50% Merlot; 28% Cabernet Sauvignon; 11% Cabernet Franc; 11% Petit Verdot; 14.5% alcohol). A step up. The oak is better integrated. I still find it a touch sweet though on the palate and rather blitzed in terms of its fruit, the tannins disrupting any sense of limpidity and clarity before it really ever gets going. Tense and fresh, however, with juicy dark berry fruits. A little sweet spice. Quite a mouthful. This will need a little time as the tannins feel a little aggressive for now. 90.

Ornellaia 2021 (Bolgheri DOC Superiore; 53% Cabernet Sauvignon; 23% Merlot; 15% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot; 15% alcohol). Soft, gentle, relaxed and composed, a little closed, cool and dark and slightly austere and sombre even. Quite oaky, but the cedar is starting to come through and with more air it really begins to announce its arrival bringing additional charm, elegance and lift. Violet and parfumier’s essence of violet. The Cabernet Franc leafiness and notes of blueberry are evident and exquisite. Inky. Cedary. Dark and plump with the tannins finer and more architectural. Substantial and needing time to come together completely, this feels a little elemental today, but there is great quality in the ingredients. Long and rippling on the finish. 96.

Dal Forno Valpolicella DOC Superiore 2016 (Valpolicella DOC Superiore; 75% Corvina & Corvina Grossa; 20% Rondinella; 5% Oseleta; 14% alcohol). Candlewax. Incense. We’re in the crypt here. Lovely glossy, plump dark black cherry fruit. Violets and the concentrated essence extracted from them by the parfumier. Patchouli. Wild herbs. This is very beautiful in this vintage. Voluptuous tannins. Quite saline, with a filing or two of iron in its minerality. ‘Only’ 14% alcohol and extremely fresh. A surprise and a revelation. There’s a lot more levity than I was expecting. 94.

Dal Forno Amaranone della Valpolicella 2016 (Amaranone della Valpolicella DOCG; 60% Corvina; 20% Rondinella; 10% Oseleta; 10% Croatina; 16.5% alcohol). Intense. The alcohol is high and it feels like it is. Dense and chewy. This needs 20 years or so to soften. Incense. Violets. Rose petals, rose blossom, rose essence. The aromatics have a lovely delicate florality but the palate is so viscous you could paint it onto your tongue with a brush. Candles. Loads of them. A singularity that is extraordinary in its way but not for everyone. Difficult to assess, entirely unresolved and still a little dry on the dusty finish. 95+.

Dal Forno Amaranone della Valpolicella 2010 (Amaranone della Valpolicella DOCG; 60% Corvina; 20% Rondinella; 10% Oseleta; 10% Croatina; 17.5% alcohol). Exciting aromatically but still stubbornly difficult and unresolved on the palate. Give it 20 years and hope that it has not dried out. Truffles join the incense and floral essences. A little less dry on the palate and more juicy and sapid than the 2016. But the aromatics have faded a little and are less captivating. There’s an interesting trade-off here between the aromatics and the drinkability. This, too, is longer – in the sense that it takes longer to get to the dryness on the finish (but that will yield in time). I prefer the 2016, but that is a very personal preference. 94.

Spanish release (red)

Vintage Region New? Rating
Alma (Bodega Contador) 2021 Rioja No 94

Alma (Bodega Contador) 2021 (Rioja DOC; 91% Tempranillo; 9% Garnacha Tinta; 15% alcohol). Oaky. Rich. Spicy. Quite exotic. Meaty, with a saline-ferrous bloody quality. A touch of charcuterie. Darker berry fruits are prominent, especially as the oak starts to fade. Pure. Radiant. Sour cherries. Japanese sour plums. Brambles. Blackberries. Mulberries. Five spice. Distinct; interesting; engaging. Yet there is a slight dryness to the tannins and the wood returns just at the end. It feels somewhat front- and back-ended by the oak (like a book shelf!). What I find in the middle I like rather more. 94.

Chinese release (red)

Vintage Region New? Rating
Ao Yun 2020 Yunnan No 97+

 Ao Yun 2020 (Yunnan; 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; 19% Cabernet Franc; 10% Merlot; 6% Syrah; 5% Petit Verdot; small yields of just 18 hl/ha for the Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance; pH 3.35; 14% alcohol). A fascinating and deeply engaging wine. Graphite. Black pen ink. Plump wild blueberries. Loganberries. Brambles. A wild gamey meatiness too.. Lièvre à la royale. Violet. Lavender. Cedar. I find this very profound and rather beautiful aromatically in its slight austerity and restraint. There is almost something a little Cheval Blanc-like in its character. A glorious shape and texture in the mouth. Architectural. This is quite tight horizontally yet more elongated vertically – a lozenge on its side! Gracious and glacial at first but then bright and dynamic, charged with energy as if fired from below. Fresh. Exciting. Long and perhaps the best vintage yet of this unique wine. 97+.

Chilean releases (red) 

Vintage Region New? Rating
Clos Apalta Vinotèque 2014 Colchagua No NYT
Clos di Lican 2021 Colchagua Yes NYT
Las Pizarras Pinot Noir (Errazuriz) 2022 Aconcagua Yes 95
Las Pizarras Syrah (Errazuriz) 2022 Aconcagua Yes 94
VIK 2020 Cachapoal Valley No 96

Clos Apalta Vinotèque 2014 (Apalta Valley, Colchagua, Chile). NYT.

Clos du Lican 2021 (Apalta Valley, Colchagua, Chile). NYT.

Las Pizarras Pinot Noir (Errazuriz) 2022 (Aconcagua Costa DO; 4.6 hectares; 100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% alcohol). An odd nose. Candle wax and the plume from the candle the moment after the candlesnuffer’s been removed. Then more redolent Pinot Noir notes of assorted red berry fruits. Blackcurrant too. Black tea. Intense and concentrated. Limpid, pure, lithe and grippy. Lots of vertical stretch in the mouth. Lithe and sinuous but with considerable concentration. Very pure and crystalline. Lovely. 95.

Las Pizarras Syrah (Errazuriz) 2022 (Aconcagua Costa DO; 3.2 hectares; 100% Syrah; 13% alcohol). Meaty. Charcuterie. Horse’s hair. Smoked bacon crisps – Frazzles (do you remember those?). Chewy dark berry and plum fruits. Fresh, crisp, crunchy. Nicely open-texture despite the density. There’s something Hermitage about the mid-palate. The tannins have been supremely well managed. The altitude (presumably) is responsible for the striking freshness. Pure rather than complex. But long and tapering on the finish. 94.

VIK 2020 (Cachapoal Valley, Chile; 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 24% Cabernet Franc; aged for 20 months in French oak barrels and for 6 months in Barroir barrels; 14.5% alcohol). Fresh, bright and lifted aromatically, but with a subtle yet distinct sweet spiciness in the background, bringing a form of aromatic tension alongside the no less distinct herbal and lightly floral elements. This has a lovely engaging complexity – curry leaf, cinnamon and mixed spice, dark berry and stone fruit, fresh rosemary and garrigue herbs. The oak is already very well absorbed. In the mouth there is great impact, considerable density and concentration evident immediately on the attack. Yet this is also lithe, quite crystalline for a wine of such depth and both fluid and energetic. Big, bold, punchy and with considerable chewy tannins, this is very much a vin de garde – deeply impressive, quite serious and in need of a decade or so in a cool dark cellar. 96.

US releases (red)

Vintage Region New? Rating
L’Aventure Optimus 2021 Pasa Robles No 95
Acaibo 2018 Sonoma County No 95+
Stag’s Leap SLV 2021 Napa Valley Yes 98
Cathiard Vineyards 2021 Napa Valley No 98
Promontory 2019 Napa Valley No 99

L’Aventure Optimus 2021 (Pasa Robles AVA; 55% Syrah; 27% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18% Petit Verdot; 15% alcohol). Floral, with rose petal essence and pot pourri the first notes to express themselves. Lifted. Elegant. Stylish. Candlewax. A slight suggestion of nail varnish. Deep dark plump plush berries. Very pure and refined, this is not at all a block-buster. Juicy. Polished. Lots of finesse. Velvety textured, with quite a dense and perhaps surprisingly four-square central block of dark fruit, graphite and pepper surrounded by very fine-grained, soft and supple, almost delicate tannins. Nicely pixilated. 95.

Acaibo 2018 (Sonoma County AVA; 86% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 14% alcohol). Tasted twice with staggeringly different results. I was confused by the first sample and so sought to re-taste. A second sample was much more compelling. Perhaps the best vintage to date of Acaibo. Intensely floral aromatically, with a lovely sense of lift. Incense, patchouli, hyacinth and even saffron notes, a wild herbal element – oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage – and a dark damson, plum and mulberry fruit which is even more intense on the palate. There’s also a little hint of star anise and a note of Japanese preserved plums. Quite umami. Smooth, glossily textured, with lovely ripe and grippy fine-grained tannins that massage the fruit along a well-defined central spine. Really impressive. 95+.

Stag’s Leap SLV 2021 (Napa; Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc). Dark purple at the rim. Opaque at the core. Inky. Graphite with a touch of cedar. Chocolate-coated violets. Very impressive. This exudes class and concentration, too, but its considerable power is beautifully disguised. Lovely dark blueberries and wild bilberries. Black cherry. Liquorice. This is highly crystalline, pixilated, layered, rippling, with great precision. Chewy but in all the best ways. There’s a subtle yet glorious leafiness to the fruit too which brings an additional dimension. Not overwhelmingly powerful but gracious, moderated and supremely elegant. 98.

Cathiard Vineyards 2021 (Napa; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.4% alcohol). Quite closed at first. And then a little oaky. There’s an initial hint of violet and peony which builds, bringing dark cherries, chocolate, incense, frangipane and toast. Sweet spices, above all nutmeg. On the palate this has a natural charming sweetness and an incredible power for a wine so limpid and translucent. Incredible textured and highly pixilated. A wine of very great purity. Yet a wine of very great density too. It’s like translucent basalt – impossible to imagine. So ample and the tannins so incredibly soft. Precise, refined and actually more easy to appreciate than you’d imagine. A baby. This needs time but the potential is extraordinary. 98.

Promontory 2019 (Napa; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol). Gosh, this too is lovely. Cedar, acacia, graphite, lily of the valley. Dark berry and stone fruit. Another superbly impressive Promontory. Cool. Plunge-pool. Yet at the same time we have a massive foursquare block of impenetrable fruit. So dense and compact, but the layers visible and finely pixilated by the svelte yet granular tannins. Exceptional. But very closed for now. An immense wine that impressed me, immensely. 99.

Australian releases (red)

Vintage Region New? Rating
St Henri Shiraz (Penfolds) 2019 South Australia Yes 95
RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz (Penfolds) 2018 Barossa Valley Yes 95
Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon (Penfolds) 2019 Coonawarra Yes 96+
Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon (Penfolds) 2021 South Australia Yes 98
Grange (Penfolds) 2019 South Australia Yes 98+
Mount Mary Quintet Cabernet Sauvignon* 2016 Yarra Valley Yes 97
Yalumba The Octavius Old Vine Shiraz* 2018 Barossa Valley Yes 95
Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz* 2018 Eden Valley Yes 98
Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz* 2016 Clare Valley Yes 98

* – only available as part of the Australian Ark Collection mixed case

St Henri Shiraz (Penfolds) 2019 (South Australia; 100% Shiraz; 14.5% alcohol). This was released in late January. Quite distinct aromatically. Exotic spices. Nutmeg but also cinnamon and clove, incense, cumin. After Bin 798 this is tighter and more focussed, less ample and a little more compact in form. Glossy and limpid, lithe and plump but not necessary broad-shouldered or ample in that way – the athlete more than the body builder. Lovely floral notes – lilac, even lily of the valley and peony. A lovely mouthfeel that remains tighter and more cylindrical than the others, the tannins already quite soft and very fine-grained, offering a form of pixilation that penetrates in from the edge of the cylinder as it were. Very fine. Nice and chewy on the finish. The oak nicely incorporated. 95. (RRP: £80; €99).

RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz (Penfolds) 2018 (Barossa Valley; 100% Shiraz; 14.5% alcohol). This was released in late January. Smoky. Plump and plush, ripe but fresh and almost slightly leafy in its fruit profile – which is rare for Australian Shiraz. Patchouli candles and their wax, a little hint of the struck match to light then, and that deep, dark stone fruit  with generous cracked black peppercorns and sweet spicing. A touch of vanilla. Ample but the girth immediately reined in by the grippy, structuring tannins breaking in from the exterior. Quite dense at the core and intense but with plenty of dynamism from the fresher, more sapid notes – which don’t so much well up from underneath and break it through the sides as the tannins grip and massage the fruit. Sage. Slightly oaky still. 95. (RRP: £130; €150).

Bin 169 Cabernet Sauvignon (Penfolds) 2021 (Coonawarra; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; sourced from Coonawarra; aged for 16 months in French oak, just over half of which is new; pH 3.65; 14.5% alcohol). This was released in late January. A very classic expression of this iconic Penfolds release, now in its fourth year on La Place de Bordeaux and, for the first time, to be released alongside the 5 other members of Penfolds’ ‘Luxury & Icon’ range. Rich, intensely dark-berry fruited and with copious sweet aromatic spices – Chinese five spice, clove, nutmeg, a touch of vanilla (less so when tasted in February just after its January release) and a glorious, gracious cedar-coated walnut note too. Minty too. Succulent, plump and ample on the palate but with an impressive clarity and sense of precision and with ultra-fine grained tannins, this is beautifully made and very impressive indeed. As fine a Bin 169 as I can recall. Already engaging and accessible, but this will reward patience. 96+ (RRP: £170; €200).

Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon (Penfolds) 2021 (South Australia; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; sourced from Coonawarra, Barossa Valley and Wrattonbully; pH 3.65; aged for 16 months in new American oak hogsheads; 14.5% alcohol). This was released in late January. An incredibly pure, precise and focussed wine, charged with bright, crisp, crunchy fresh berry fruit and fifty shades of Cabernet cassis. Tensile tannins, with grain but exquisite finesse. Lots of menthol, a little eucalyptus and incense. This is vivid, vibrant, energetic and dynamic in its clarity and luminosity. A tidal wave of fresh berries. The fruit is tightly coiled and strapped to the well-defined, chiselled backbone. It glides over the palate, glistening as it does so and releasing little eddies and undercurrents of fresh fruit and juicy sapidity. The oak is almost imperceptible and this is remarkably accessible already. Great indeed. 98 (RRP: £475; €550).

Grange (Penfolds) 2019 (South Australia; 97% Shiraz and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon; sourced from Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra and Clare Valley; pH: 3.62; aged for 19 months in new American oak hogsheads; 14.5% alcohol). This was released in late January. More classical than the 2018 and a tad more austere – but I rather like that. Classically ‘Grange’. Glorious. Cordite. Incense. Embers. A hint of truffle. Mulberry and mulberry compote, a little blueberry, bramble and Kalamata tapenade. A gamey note; venison Bresaola perhaps. Gorgeous. Radiant and glistening in its mid-palate limpidity and luminosity. Chocolate. Hoisin. Chinese five spice. Szechuan peppercorns, freshly crushed. This has great clarity, precision and focus. There’s beautiful integrity and harmony here too. The early integration of the fruit in this is so important for that sense of holism here – everything here is as one. Seamless, with plunge pool coolness in the mid-palate. Salinity and sapidity combine on the sensuous finish. The tannins are incredibly fine-grained. Wondrous with so much composure and refinement. 98+ (RRP: £600; €700).

Italian releases (white)

Vintage Region New? Rating
Poggio Alle Gazze Dell’Ornellaia 2022 Toscana No 88
Ornellaia biano 2021 Toscana No 93
Cervaro della Sale 2022 Umbria No NYT

Poggio Alle Gazze Dell’Ornellaia 2022 (Toscana IGT; 53% Sauvignon Blanc; 37% Vermentino; 6% Viognier; 2% Verdicchio; 2% Semillon; 13% alcohol). Viscous and quite rich. A touch metallic. Pear and pear skin with some of its texture too – which I like. Fleshy and rather juicy. I much prefer the palate to the aromatics. Though even here one could do with a little more citrus. Though there is acidity, there’s not quite enough to cut the fat. 88.

Ornellaia bianco 2021 (Bolgheri DOC; 100% Sauvignon Blanc; 13% alcohol). Such a step up. Pure, lithe, if still a little metallic for me. Citron pressé. Freshly scythed hay. A touch of exotic fruit – guava and passion fruit. Fennel. Fresh, bright, crisp and crunchy on the attack – refreshingly so. A touch of residual sugar. White grapefruit and fleshy peach and pear. Wild thyme. Acacia honey. Succulent. Juicy. Very fine. 93.

Chilean release (white)

Vintage Region New? Rating
Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2022 Aconcagua Yes 91

Las Pizarras Chardonnay 2022 (Aconcagua Costa D. O.; 100% Chardonnay; 13% alcohol). Fireworks. The spices from the oak on the nose are a little prominent, accentuated by the sense that this remains a little closed aromatically. Better on the palate. Peach. Plush and ample but open and glacial. Luminous too. Not terribly complex but with a nice intensity and fresh and crisp throughout. Perhaps a little simple and aromatically fairly closed for now, but pleasingly pure and bright. Chewy on the finish. 91.

Australian release (white)

Vintage Region New? Rating
Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay (Penfolds) 2018 South Australia Yes 96
Tyrrell’s Vat No. 1 Sémillon* 2013 Hunter Valley Yes 96
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay* 2012 Margaret River Yes 94

* – only available as part of the Australian Ark Collection mixed case (see above)

Yattarna Bin 144 Chardonnay (Penfolds) 2018 (South Australia; 100% Chardonnay; 13% alcohol). This was released in late January. Lovely fresh bright peach and rose petal notes, nice citrus elements, rich and plump and full. White flowers and hyacinth notes, very vertical; a hint of cordite; struck match, as ever with the wine. Just a touch of exotic fruit – guava, passion fruit. A little fleur d’oranger. Lemongrass too. Quite creamily-textured as it opens – more so that the tauter, tighter 2021 (or indeed 2011). Lovely sapidity and with structuring grapefruit zest notes. Citron pressé too; again the subtle hint of more exotic fruit – guava above all. Hazelnut perhaps. Long and always ultra-fresh and pure. Seems younger than it is. A touch of mint on the finish. So incredibly youthful and promising a glacial evolution under screwcap. 96. (RRP: £135; €159).

Champagne releases

Vintage Region New? Rating
Champagne Boizel Joyau 2012 Champagne No 95

Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses

Juste Rosé

2012 Champagne No NYT
Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses ‘L. V.’ Long Vieillissement 1998 Champagne No 95+

Champagne Boizel Joyau 2012 (Champagne; extra-brut; 60% Pinot Noir; 40% Chardonnay; dosage 3 g/l; disgorged in December 2023; 12% alcohol). Golden-rimmed. A hint of Tutankhamun burial mask to it. Nutty, slightly truffly (but not overly so), frangipane, white almond flesh or new season almonds before the skins have set. Baker’s yeast. Toasted brioche. Walnut. Pain d’epices. Cinnamon stick. A little fresh ginger. Pain perdu. A saline-iodine hint to its minerality. Rich and with a well-defined central core. More youthful on the palate with almost virgin citrus notes – the aromatics betraying its age rather more. I’d give this a little longer, not least as it was only disgorged in December. The elements do not as yet entirely coalesce – much though I like them! Likely to represent fantastic value. 95.

Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses Juste Rosé 2012 (tiny quantities) NYT. Initially released in 2023, with a little more wine now offered to the market. Not tasted due to the tiny quantities and the mythic status of both the wine and the vintage.

Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses ‘L. V.’ Long Vieillissement 1998 (Champagne; 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay; dosage of 4.5 g/l; disgorged in March 2023). Tasted with Charles Philipponnat at the property two weeks before its first release. Wow! A wine of staggering purity and intensity. Girolles and black truffle, cèpes and trompettes de la mort. Quince, apricot and peach. Some exotic fruits, perhaps a little mango. Saffron. This is ample and richer in style than if it had been made today. Creamy risotto, with plenty of caramelised butter. On the palate, apricots, a little fleur d’oranger, just a hint of raspberry and loganberry and a little fleur de sel. This is more slender and etiolated on the finish, but utterly wonderful at the same time. It’s a beautiful signature of the vintage and of this exceptional terroir. Sapid and juicy on the gracious finish where the sense of delicacy and finesse is strongest. 95+.



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