October 14, 2021

October Wines Letter

By Ben Whitfield
October Wines Letter

Starting with Two Favourites

I am a huge fan of well-made Sauvignon Blanc.  You may remember from my first letter my recommendations from the cool climes of the Loire Valley like the Dézat Sancerre, Thibault Pouilly Fumé etc. I like SBs from other parts of the world too, including those made in warmer places like Marlborough, New Zealand.  They can be ‘too much of a good thing’ with intensely aromatic, herbaceous flavours only right for certain occasions. Balance is key to successful Sauvignon Blanc.

In Portugal this summer, I did a lot of tasting (!) including the incredible Quinta da Boa Esperança Sauvignon Blanc 2019.  I search out non-indigenous grapes being used well, and I was totally blown away by the Sauvignon Blanc that my friend Artur Gama produces.  Cooled by the Atlantic breezes that bluster down the valleys in this part of Portugal (quite near Eriçeira, surfing mecca), this is an incredibly balanced Sauvignon, and really difficult to fault. Made in small quantities, it is fine, zesty and pure, with great acidity and very delicate herbaceous flavours.  I urge you to try a case or two. Deluxe, everyday drinking at its best.

Another hot favourite is Pinot Noir from Alsace, which is becoming very desirable in the UK as red burgundies become ever more expensive, and the region produces high quality wines at more sensible prices.  I discovered Bruno Sorg during my time at Zédel, as it is the perfect expression of those wonderful bright red fruit wines so prevalent in the brasseries of Alsace. I urge you to try this, it is refreshing and delicate, and perfect with roast chicken!  It is pale in colour and unlike more full-bodied reds, its texture is really soft and gentle. Very tough not to open a second bottle, so get a case.

Where to find Value in Burgundy

This remains a constant challenge for lovers of white Burgundy who want quality and quantity combined, whilst trying to spend sensibly.  Price rises are becoming more and more acute as adverse weather, especially frosts in Chablis, but also warmer weather throughout Burgundy in the summer months restricts supply, and challenges wine producers with the need for earlier and earlier harvests in these areas. All this in the face of never ending and increasing demand (blame quantitative easing).  Prices are only going one way. 

Finding new generations of producers, pushing suppliers on prices and lots of tasting and searching off the beaten track can yield great results and I have some exciting suggestions for those of you with white burgundy issues. 

In my first letter, I introduced the wines of a well renowned, family estate run by Gilles et Nathalie Fèvre.  Since then, lots of you have bought them or tasted with me and the feedback has been overwhelming. A friend with an amazing palette professed recently that the premier cru was the finest 1er cru Chablis she had ever tasted.  I have the Chablis 2019 and the Premier Cru ‘Les Fourchaumes’ 2019 available which is up in price a little with the new vintage and limited to first come first served!  Worth noting if you are getting organised for Christmas, the premier cru is also available in magnums and is plentiful.  They are absolutely delicious, mouth-watering, benchmark examples of pure, incisive, concentrated wines. If you like Chablis, you will love these.  Most of the production stays in France and what comes to the UK is often nabbed by the restaurant trade, so I am really lucky to be able to offer these fine Chardonnays.

A suggestion that is a touch easier on the wallet and is right in our sweet spot of every day, deluxe drinking is Vincent Girardin Bourgogne Blanc Terroir Noble 2017.  The Bourgogne Blanc “Terroir Noble” comes from vines all situated in the communes of Puligny, Chassagne and Meursault (hence 'Terroir Noble'), so amazing raw materials. The wine has that whole ripe, rounded stone fruits and buttery, creamy richness thing going, typical of great white burgundy, great balance between freshness and concentration of flavours. The crazy thing about this is the price, which is at a big discount to anywhere else you will find it, I promise.  It is a total bargain and extremely drinkable.

I have discovered another fantastic secret wine in Burgundy; Montagny Blanc, 1er Cru Grappes D’Or, Domaine Feuillat Juillot.  It delivers brilliantly on intensity and quality.  Immensely pleasing for friends and guests, this drinks like a much more expensive wine from a grander AOC. Maybe not quiet every evening deluxe, but perfect for a special Saturday lunch or Friday evening with friends. This wine should be in your cellar/ under the stairs at all times.

And now for something completely different!  Domaine Alain Gras St. Romain Blanc 2019 is a new discovery for me and is another insider’s wine.  For many years the St. Romain appellation has been slightly hampered by its altitude and the wines have stayed a touch lean, compared to their very grand neighbours in Meursault and Auxey-Duresses and around the Côte de Beaune. As the area is gently impacted by warmer summers, St. Romain has benefitted enormously from its altitude and topography, and in the hands of one of the best wine makers in Burgundy - Alain Gras - some truly magical whites are being produced at less than exalted prices.  If you love Meursault premier crus, I urge you to try this, at a fraction of the price and frankly better value than a lot of Meursault being produced currently.

‘Insider Wines’ from Bordeaux

When it comes to Bordeaux, I am constantly on the look-out for what are known in the trade as ‘insider wines’, that is to say wines that are a little below radar for what they are, but deliver above and beyond, and for obvious reasons, are often nabbed by restaurants in the UK, quickly and quietly! The following three wines are no exception.

Firstly, white Bordeaux –you may hardly ever drink it, but this wine will change any preconceptions you may have. This one is from the Graves appellation, Château Graville-Lacoste and is owned by the charming and understated Hervé Durbourdieu.  When I first visited Restaurant Chez Hortense in Lege-Cap-Ferret (famous for its roast turbot, beach views & cool Bordelais people watching) and tasted this, their infamous house wine (no one drinks anything else), I was blown away by its deliciousness.  Wondering if this might have been a holiday romance, I tracked it down in the UK and have found it as good, if not better on these shores.  The blend is 60% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Muscadelle. Fermentation and ageing take place in stainless steel to retain freshness. This is classic, mineral Graves with real depth and vitality.

Vieux Ch. Saint André harks from north-east of St Emilion in the Montagne appellation, set in around 12 hectares and has been in the Berrouet family since 1978.  If the name of the estate is mysterious, the family name is certainly not, at least in wine world. A Berrouet family member has been the head winemaker at Pétrus since 1964; Jeff’s brother, Olivier, succeeded their father, Jean-Claude, there in 2008. Pétrus – as with all the wines of Pomerol – is also unclassified, so Vieux Chateau Saint André is in good company. I am so excited to be able to present this classic, merlot driven Pomerol.

Next is Pauillac de Lynch Bages 2016. Truly a baby Lynch-Bages (well, the third wine) it is a wonder that this member of the Lynch-Bages Family is not more widely lauded.  That is to say it is pretty much a perfect expression of Pauillac, impressive and rich, all autumn, cedar and dark berries. It was first created in 2009 and is made entirely from the fruit of the property. The wine comes from the younger vines and is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. It is a wonderful introduction to the property and while clearly Pauillac, the young fruit character gives a forward, supple style that delivers delicious early drinking.  I can bring it to you at a brilliant price - sub £30!

Italian Elegance – Nebbiolo & Sangiovese

The Piedmont region of northwest Italy has long been—deservedly—associated with high quality Barolo and Barbaresco wines made from the red Nebbiolo grape. Today, however, less tannic, often fresher and very affordable alternatives are produced in various DOCG. I feel like it is my duty to find them for you.

For this month, I will also include (again) wines made from Italy’s most famous and widely grown grape – Sangiovese.  I have as ever been looking for high quality, combined with brilliant pricing and Cortonesi is exactly that.   More exciting Italian reds in November!

Langhe Nebbiolo Simane, Reverdito 2019. So, this wine could be sold as Barolo San Giacomo, but the producer considers the soil to be too heavily clay to produce perfect Barolo. How lucky we are as it would be triple the price!   A great expression of Nebbiolo, barriques are no longer used. The wines are aged for between one year and thirty months, depending on the vineyard and the vintage.  These are soft wines, but still with plenty of backbone and authority. You will love them.

Gattinara Mauro Franchino 2017. I discovered this incredible wine recently on the revered wine list at the River Café in Hammersmith.  It is very hard to remove wines from the RC list as long-standing customers complain, so to add a completely new wine takes real star quality!  This tiny, three-hectare estate is firmly in the control of Mauro Franchino and he produces around 400 cases in a normal year. Although Barolo and Barbaresco have the reputation, Gattinara is in the heart of the Langhe and produces ethereal Nebbiolo wines without the price or craziness surrounding the more famous examples. Mauro`s vineyards are centrally located and mostly just to the west of the famous tower you see on bottles (see right). The qualities Mauro brings to his winemaking produce fragrant wines with great structure.  Stock is a touch limited, so first come, first served.

The two Sangiovese wines are perhaps unsurprisingly, Brunellos from Tuscany - Rosso di Montalcino 2019 from Cortonesi and the Brunello di Montalcino 2016, Cortonesi ‘La Manella’. They were both on my last letter and will be tricky to switch out.  The Brunello di Montalcino is now the 2016 vintage, a little more money, but even better than the 2014.  The Brunello is for special occasions, the Rosso for everyday deluxe.  Please do get involved with these wines, and if you would like more detail, do let me know. They will pluck at your heart strings and give huge satisfaction.  Best price around of course, and magnums available too (just ask).

A Brace of Gorgeous Champagnes

Suggesting so-called growers Champagnes can be a thankless task, as there is still so much bias in the UK towards the heavily branded, high-quality product from the famous Champagne houses amongst sensible consumers, and much of the best product from smaller houses stays in France.  However, as we approach Christmas and to stay in line with my stated aim of finding high quality at brilliant (unbeatable) prices, it would be remiss of me to leave you to fend for yourselves as we approach champagne buying season! You will love both of these, one vintage, one NV.  

Barthélémy Saphir Brut 2014 is our first WW champagne and is a serious product at a wonderful price.  Many champagne houses have gorgeous stories about their romantic beginnings. Louis Barthelemy is a relative newcomer – 1923 – but ticks the box as it was created by a Russian Princess who fled Moscow and its revolutionary unrest for Éparnay.  The house was acquired in 2002 by Jean Barthélémy Chancel, the youngest négotiant manipulant of his generation.  Set amongst the great vineyards around Aÿ, the house benefits from rich and diversified buying contracts in a large number of top-notch crus.  Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier.

The style is about relatively low dosage, and longer than average on lees, creating a wonderful, complex, elegant wine. The champagne is made using the grapes from a single harvest and is produced only in exceptional years with the best ageing potential.  This is proper, vintage champagne from a top-class producer.

When I taste this Champagne Gallimard Père et Fils, everything about it says happy times.  Birthday parties with magnums, after breakfast on Christmas Day, to accompany a successful book launch, a glass of champagne (or two) before lunch on a Sunday, just because, well, it’s a Sunday.

Didier Gallimard owns 10 hectares of prime vineyards on the steep slopes around Les Riceys in the southern Aube. Didier’s son Arnaud has joined him, becoming the seventh generation, and the long-term future is now secure. Their vines’ average age is over 30 years and the dramatically sloping vineyards, which are of chalk and Kimmeridgian limestone, are planted mainly to Pinot Noir and just a little Chardonnay. Their wines are full and rich and offer enticing aromas and flavours of summer fruits.

The Gallimard champagne I am offering this month is 100% pinot noir, and at these prices, I think just scream ‘buy magnums’!

Thank you, and happy drinking,