The Big Idea: Wine Wakes Up
We’re raising a glass to the shift towards diversity in wine culture that has begun in earnest over this past year. Here in the UK, the Gérard Basset Foundation is generating funds through its Golden Vines auctions to support BIPOC candidates interested in an enology career. “Inclusivity and diversity are big problems to solve in the wine world,” says Lewis Chester, CEO of Liquid Icons, which helps provide the financing for the Gérard Basset Foundation. “We need to create role models.” Big names, such as Dom Pérignon and Taylor Fladgate, have signed on to further advance these efforts, creating opportunities on-site for internships in the lab and cellar and sponsoring grants to help students pursue the rigorous and expensive master of wine certification. From both a business and a cultural perspective, he believes a more inclusive wine industry will be a more successful and enjoyable one. “Businesses that are more diverse do well,” Chester says. “Wine has been completely non- diverse. There are historical and economic reasons for that, that led many minority groups to not be exposed to wine. It’s now a social-justice issue. We all need to do our bit to modernise and allow anyone with capabilities to rise to the top.”
Chester says that the US is doing it best so far. University of California, Davis, known for its enology programs, is leading the way. Professor David Block has seen his department increase enrolment of Latinx students over the past decade through strategic outreach. Now he’s expanding those efforts to include other BIPOC communities. “A year ago, we decided to increase diversity in other ways. We have had very few minorities and Black students in our programmes. What can we do to recruit and retain those students?” he says. “The state of California can’t give out scholarships based on diversity, but we can get a more diverse applicant pool.” Through connecting with high-profile leaders — such as former pro-basketball star Dwyane Wade and writer Julia Coney — who can serve as ambassadors for wine education, more strides have been made. Block points out that organisations such as the Napa Valley Vintners and individual California wineries such as O’Neill and Delicato are also offering scholarships or assistance to BIPOC students.
One of the pioneers of inclusivity is sommelier Yannick Benjamin. This past year he opened Contento, a restaurant built to accommodate people with disabilities. Benjamin became personally aware of the lack of inclusivity in the wine world after a 2003 car accident left him partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. He tells the story of a woman with a muscular condition dining at Contento because she knew not only did it have adaptive seating and tables but also that its staff was trained to be sensitive to her needs. Another ingredient in that culture is Benjamin’s own presence. “It’s very rare [for] a diner who has a disability to get the opportunity to be served and taken care of by someone within their community,” he says.
And his philosophy could be applied to other underrepresented populations as well: the more we see diverse individuals running a vineyard, making wine, collecting it and pouring it, the more interesting and welcoming the wine world will become.
Spanish: Familia Torres 2017 Mas de la Rosa, Vinyes Velles, Porrera, Priorat
From introducing foreign varietals in Spain’s Penedès region to founding one of the first foreign wineries in Chile, and from a commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 to boosting that to 55 per cent by 2030, the five generations of Spain’s Familia Torres are no strangers to innovation.
With its Mas de la Rosa Vineyard in Priorat, the winery is pushing the envelope, growing grapes on steep slopes at high elevation (1,600-plus feet). The result is a wine both opulent and bold. From low-yielding, 80-year-old vines, this blend of Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignane) opens with complex layers of red earth, floral aromas, dark cherry and chocolate, and hints of vanilla balanced on the savoury side by tobacco, leather and espresso. Baking spices and anise pop against a backdrop of silky (but far from shy) tannins.
Most Complex Blend: Penfolds G5
Australian winemaker Peter Gago shows he’s at the top of his game with this artful blend. Composed of five vintages of Grange — Penfolds’ most collectible annual release and itself a blend of Shiraz from many of the Barossa Valley’s best parcels — from 2018, 2016, 2014, 2012 and 2010. He put the mix back
into barrel for a year, tasting it monthly, and then bottled it in April 2021. “It was hugely risky for us,” he says, with Grange prices at £680 a bottle and the worry of ruining the wine by hanging on to older barrels. “I’m phobic about oxidative pickup,” he adds. It was
an experiment that could have gone wrong. Except Gago is a master. The outstanding G5 is the final edition of the blended Grange series, coming on the heels of a G3 and a G4, which Gago says are already doubling their value on the secondary market.
Chardonnay/White Burgundy: Jean-Claude Boisset 2019 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Burgundy, France
of the famed Corton hill maintains brightness that makes it stand out in a year hailed for both its ripeness and high acidity. Only 282 bottles were made of this luscious white Burgundy that offers a gorgeous texture and flavours of green apple, lychee and almond blossom. The bouquet is heady with lemons and a splendid lift of orange blossom. Although you will be tempted to drink it right away, your future self will thank you for laying it down for a few more years.
Italian: Le Macchiole 2016 Messorio, Bolgheri
If one single wine can revive Merlot’s distressingly poor reputation in the minds of wine drinkers, it may be Le Macchiole’s 2016 Messorio from Bolgheri, the home of Super Tuscans. While many of her neighbours blend varieties native to Bordeaux to produce their iconic wines, Le Macchiole proprietor Cinzia Merli focuses on single-varietal expressions in her top-tier bottlings. Made with only Merlot, Messorio, first produced in 1994, was one of the earliest mono-varietal wines in this coastal Tuscan region.
Partial fermentation in cement allows for a fuller expression of fruit, while ageing for 19 months in lightly toasted oak adds structure to the Merlot, which has naturally softer tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc. The result is a wine that shows refinement and restraint, with flavours of black cherry and dark plum and notes of roasted fennel bulb that coalesce in a graceful, lingering finish.
Burgundy: Thibault Liger-Belair 2018 Richebourg Grand Cru, France
Just 1,876 standard bottles, 96 magnums and 9 jeroboams of Thibault Liger-Belair Richebourg Grand Cru were produced in 2018. Of Vosne-Romanée’s six grand cru vineyards, Richebourg is just steps from neighbouring Romanée-Conti. The appellation has long been known for producing opulent wines with both earthy and dense ripe red and black fruit notes. This stunning wine follows tradition with aromas of violets, baking spices and a touch of bramble brought on by the 30 per cent whole clusters used in its fermentation.
It’s aged in 60 per cent new oak barrels, which add a beautiful frame of wood and a touch of mocha and coffee that accentuate those bright fruit flavours. Tannins are silky smooth. This is a wine that will mature gracefully for three or four decades.
Wine Of The Year: Salon 2012 Cuvee S, Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut, France
This is one of the rarer Champagnes out there, with just 5,000 cases produced. It’s also one of the most prized, and not just for its scarcity. It’s always hand-picked and always a Blanc de Blancs, meaning it’s made with 100 per cent Chardonnay (considered by many connoisseurs to be the highest expression of Champagne). As happens at most of the other premium houses, Salon’s president, Didier Depond, decides to make Salon Le Mesnil only in years with superlative conditions. This wine comes from one tiny grand cru, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, claiming the region’s highest concentration of limestone beneath its white-chalk soils. The 2012 growing season was one of extremes in Champagne.
While the vintage was stated to have been better for red Champagne grapes, this sparkler is proof that greatness rises from adversity. After a season plagued by too much rain, too much heat and barely enough grapes, Depond first declared there would be no 2012 vintage but changed his mind as he watched the wine mature. Those limestone, chalk and marine-fossil soils lend minerality to the grapes while cool nights provide the perfect conditions to retain Chardonnay’s acidity and freshness. Aromas of baked apples, rose petals and brioche prepare the palate for flavours of caramelised pineapple, Bartlett pear and oyster shell backed by bold acidity.
Bordeaux: Château Lafite Rothschild 2018, Pauillac, Bordeaux, France
Released in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Rothschild family’s acquisition of Château Lafite in 1868, the Château Lafite Rothschild 2018 is bottled with the playful addition of a hot-air balloon on its familiar label. The estate’s leader, Saskia de Rothschild, saw the balloon as an apt symbol for the house: in 1868 it was cutting-edge; today it’s a kind of slow but still magical journey. As she says, it represents “just what we have been doing at Lafite for 150 years: steadily standing the test of time as we head towards the future.”
After a spring described by the château as “capricious”, the late summer of 2018 yielded perfect ripening conditions for a vintage that is considered excellent by wine critics across the board. Made with 91 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8.5 per cent Merlot and a splash of Petit Verdot, the 2018 exhibits flavours of black currant, blackberry, baking spices and a touch of mint wrapped in rich tannins. This should be cellared until at least the end of the decade, but if you don’t open it for another 30 years, your tastebuds will still be wowed by the wine’s elegance and finesse.
Rosé: Clos Du Temple 2019 Rosé Languedoc, Cabrières, France
Rosé is a victim of its own success. Embraced as the quaffable summer sip of choice in the South of France, and then the US, rosé claimed the title as a wine for fun.
Gérard Bertrand, though, takes it entirely seriously — as seriously as he takes his native Languedoc-Roussillon, where, since retiring from his rugby career, he has been raising the bar on wine- growing and -making in the large region known more for quantity over quality, embedding organic and biodynamic practices at the core of excellence.
With his 2019 Clos du Temple Languedoc Cabrières Rosé, the former French national player and recent author (Nature at Heart: For a Better World) lifts pink into the company of serious wine. And why not? With meticulous (sustainable) farming of 80-year- old vines, careful choice of fermentation vessels and judicious use of oak ageing, the wine has complexities and thought-provoking appeal. Perfumed with florals and earth, the nose hints of wild strawberry, stone fruit, melon and minerals, with white peach and pink grapefruit following on the palate and a kiss of salinity on the finish.
Rosé Champagne: Louis Roederer 2012 Cristal Rosé, Champagne, France
While Cristal has gained a reputation as something of a celebrity wine, it’s still a serious one, even as a rosé. Some rosé, especially vintage rosé Champagne, is built to age. Stored properly, this bottle will be drinking perfectly 8 to 12 years from now. That same cold, wet spring that gave us the Salon (our Wine of the Year) also produced this remarkable sparkling rosé. This vintage of Cristal was the first made using 100 per cent biodynamic vineyard practices; it’s also organic, and some of the fruit used in it comes from the estate’s oldest vines, ones between 25 and 60 years old.
A blend of 56 per cent Pinot Noir and 44 per cent Chardonnay, the wine displays surprising youth and freshness on both the nose and palate. It’s full-bodied, with elegant fruit and lively effervescence, offering flavours of green apple, white peach, Valencia orange and toasted almond with a palpable minerality. Only a small portion of Champagne makes its way into vintage bottlings, which are not produced every year: you’ll be glad cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon determined that 2012 was worthy of this designation.
Malbec: Viña Cobos 2018 Chañares Estate Malbec, Los Árboles, Mendoza, Argentina
As Argentine Malbec — and specifically that from Mendoza — has gained popularity in the past 20 years, winemakers have become more focussed on single-appellation and single-vineyard sites to coax the best out of this native French variety. At the forefront of this movement is Napa vintner Paul Hobbs, who started making wine in Argentina in 1989, back when Malbec was being treated more as a common blending grape instead of a varietal with its own finesse and power, and cofounded Viña Cobos in 1999. “I wanted the freedom to explore how it’s impacted by various farming techniques, like any noble grape,” says Hobbs. The high-altitude, rocky vineyard enjoys cold nights that are optimal for retaining
the grapes’ acidity, and ideal weather in the 2018 growing season contributed to ultimate ripeness. The site is also “alive with wild herbs and energy,” according to Hobbs. All of this combined with his emphasis on farming naturally, makes this particular wine a prized expression of the Malbec. It tastes of blackberry, cassis, Earl Grey tea and thyme, with opulent tannins and a strong backbone of minerality brought on by the vineyard’s sandy and loamy calcium- carbonate soils.
Bouquet: Keplinger 2019 Sumō
This wine started out as something of a fluke in 2007, when winemaker Helen Keplinger wanted to collaborate with farmer Anne Kramer to create a Grenache blend. But Kramer didn’t have any Grenache from her Shake Ridge Vineyard available, just Petite Sirah. So Keplinger experimented with those grapes. Petite Sirah can be dense, so she lifted it by doing something unusual — co-fermenting it with Viognier — and later also blending in about 10 to 15 per cent Syrah. The result is this gorgeous bottle with a unique nose: high floral tones accented by the iodine character of the Petite Sirah that then deepens to darker notes of berry and chocolate. The palate mimics this heady evolution.
Keplinger, a Japanophile, and her co-owner/ husband, DJ Warner, named the wine Sumō for its power as well as for the artful and elegant dance sumo wrestlers perform as they grapple for position. The floral notes might give way to the density of the Petite Sirah in the end, but together they know how to put on a show.
English Sparkling Wine: Gusbourne 2018 Blanc de Noirs
We’re still some way away from the phrase “English sparkling wine” having the same glamourous mystique as “Champagne” — but the notion that bubbly from north of La Manche is likely to be inferior to what’s produced to its south has long since gone a little vinegary.
The jury’s out on whether the south of England’s chalky soil composition, similar to that of the hallowed region 100 miles or so northeast of Paris, is largely to thank. Either way, the success of English bubblies — both commercially and critically — has seen French winegrowers buying up patches of land in the UK, with climate change almost certainly a factor (cooler temperatures mean higher grape acidity, leading to greater crispness).
Our pick of the bunch is an intense, complex expression, made with Pinot Noir grapes and aged for 27 months on lees and six months on cork, from a maker which planted its first vines in Appledore, Kent, in 2004. With citrus, candied and other fruit notes fighting for prominence, Gusbourne’s latest sparkly is a great conversation starter.