Issue #137, November 2020
Australia is my wife, Bordeaux my mistress. It is very good sometimes to get away from one’s wife!
Written by Stuart McCloskey
I am torn and conflicted between my wife and my mistress, both I love dearly and both I would hate to live without. As a young man, my wine journey started some thirty years back with a love of wines from Australia and the US and this has never left me. In fact, I have come full circle as the founder of The Vinorium, an almost exclusively Australian wine specialist and importer. But, what about the 25 years in between?
Originally, I worked for a German wine importer which was a tough job. Super long hours (65+) and 40,000 miles of travelling each year, which finally took its toll on my home life. Consequently, my love of wine was suffering and I needed an escape. I kept with the same global company but took a new, in-house role as their fine wine manager. Key producers from their portfolio were my target as well as the wines from Bordeaux. Accepted, Germany to Bordeaux is quite a leap however, my entrepreneurial spirit during my ‘German’ days had kicked in with a small, side company named Sothis Fine Wine. Essentially, I was a Bordeaux wine broker, buying private collections and quickly selling them on for profit. In the early days, money was tight which forced me to sell the wines before I had physically committed to purchase them.
It certainly kept me on my toes and my knowledge of Bordeaux (in particular knowing how each Château performed in every vintage) grew considerably. I informed my full time employers of my extra-curricular activities which was met was huge excitement rather than scorn. You would find me at every Christies and Sotheby’s wine auction which was (in those days) a great way to purchase some great wines below the recognised market value. My employer was generous and provided me with a considerable budget. Of course, the caveat being to sell as quickly as I had purchased, which I obliged. It was fun and I became a regular face on the London auction scene.
Word spread of my activities and I soon became the ‘man that can’ which spiked interest in the company’s global wine partners. Many had strong agencies or old Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône stocks which they could not sell. So, I jetted off to spend a few days on-site, assessing stock / wine conditions and their respective cost prices before setting to the task of selling whilst I was there. My black book was full of affluent private clients and wine traders who had the budget and physical cash to buy quickly, which made selling well priced collections easy. In all honesty, it took little effort, but the rewards were handsome.
Bordeaux became my authority and I spent time with some amazing palates on buying trips. Working alongside the skill of a Master of Wine is invaluable and highly educational. I also worked and travelled to Bordeaux with the great, and late John Avery of Averys of Bristol. To me, John was the best of them all and we shared a similar love of the new world and the classics. In 1966, Averys became the first UK wine merchant to import Australian wines, including Penfolds Grange and McWilliams. In 1973 John imported the first Aussie Chardonnay, Tyrrell’s Vat 47.
Sampling Bordeaux En-Primeur was tough and far from fanciful as most imagine. Very early breakfasts before arriving for our first sip of unfinished Bordeaux wines by 9:00am. John was a machine and would sample every wine in the room. Sip, slurp, jot down notes and spit. Head down and rarely speaking before we departed for the next Château appointment. Often, we would be the last in the room and frequently, we would still be at it well into the evening. It was more of an endurance exercise than pleasurable, but the experience was immeasurable. Sadly, John died peacefully on 23 March 2012…
In all, I covered seventeen Bordeaux En-Primeur vintages with my former employers and many (since 2005) with my own company Z&B Vintners. The 2017 vintage and campaign being my last…
I visited Bordeaux regularly and often tasted hundreds of wines with a good friend who works for a négociant. We often spent three to four days together visiting all the top Châteaux, from Mouton Rothschild, to Latour, Vieux Château Certan, Ausone, Angelus and every other first and second growth (right banks too) in between. I also spent one day with my main source of En Primeur allocations – We sat in their cellar for six to eight hours and would sample our way through one hundred and fifty samples. Champagne, curiously, being a great refresher when the palate starts to fatigue!
Unquestionably, I have sampled many magnificent wines. Château Latour is always a highlight as were the wines from Alain Vauthier and his daughter, Pauline at Château Ausone. The memories of the 2009 and 2010 vintages will live with me forever. I never favoured Château Lafite and I always left feeling this estate is more about ego than it is about crafting great wine. Conversely, and in the earlier days, Mouton Rothschild was sensational and suited my palate perfectly. I even spotted the fifth growth, Château Pontet Canet which was showing magnificently in 2004 and 2005.
So much so, I instructed my clients to pile in and buy as much as they were comfortable to, which they did. It wasn’t long before this Pauillac estate hit the headlines with their 100 point 2009 which propelled the prices significantly (back vintages too).
If I were forced to choose one estate, one which signifies the Bordeaux perfection and authenticity, I would opt for the great Pomerol estate, Vieux Château Certan. I recall taking four of my best customers to Bordeaux for three days on a wine and culinary extravagance. Pan seared foie gras for lunch and kilos of rare côte de beouf cooked over vine cuttings for supper. They sampled Château Lafite at 9:00am, onto Latour, for an epic tasting at Château Comtesse Pichon Lalande, followed by dinner in their magnificent Château. I kept professional (being the driver) and ensured my wine consumption that evening was kept to respectful sips. That said, I struggled to find the exit in the dark and proceeded to drive into their vineyard with the first row of vines being the warning sign that I should have turned ‘la gauche’… This remains our secret as it was highly embarrassing and could have easily been rather costly if I had ploughed through a vine or two…
I took my clients to Pomerol, to visit the shy and quiet man that is, Alexandre Thienpont of Vieux Château Certan. His property is smart, but and with all right bank estates, small compared to many on the opposite side of the Gironde. We sat, perched on barrels in Alexandre’s barrel room. It was intimate and far from showy. Granted, my clients earn lots of money however, and unlike many who visited Bordeaux, they were gracious and far from greedy. Alexandre asked my clients what they would like to sample – they looked nervous and opted for a ‘classical’ vintage, one which was delicious but far from great. He poured but looked curious by their request. We continued to chat and Alexandre was eloquent with his replies. He asked the same question again, ‘what would you like to sample’ and my clients responded with another classical vintage. On this occasion Alexandre said ‘no’ and asked if they wished to sample some of his best wines, which of course was the entire point of the visit. Alexandre generously poured a flight of magnificent vintages whilst we all dangled our legs over barrels enveloping the next, great vintage. The atmosphere changed – perhaps Alexandre saw respect that he rarely sees with other visitors? What a magnificent tasting and one which we still talk about to this very day.
Being in the Bordeaux trade for so long, I have built myself a healthy collection spanning decades. In fact, and unless I retire and spend my days drinking bottle after bottle, I will never have enough life in me to enjoy every bottle I have purchased. I am a collector, but and unlike Hornby train enthusiasts, I want to take them out of their box, open and enjoy. I have neglected my Bordeaux wines for the past three to four years, which is never a bad thing – a little extra bottle age doesn’t hurt if the correct vintage and conditions allow. Christmas is always a day for the classics. Champagne followed by one or two bottles of Claret (very Berry Bros and Rudd, I know!) – something great to celebrate the day. Normally, and following an early morning training session on my bike, there are copious amounts of pigs in blankets, washed down with Champagne. The Bordeaux are attacked by late morning and I am usually asleep by 3:00pm. The appetite for the main festive meal disappears as quickly as I do to my bed.
For the past month or so, I have been opening more bottles of mature Bordeaux. Some, I have opened by mistake – the 2005 Vieux Château Certan being one, but what a bloody marvellous mistake that was. Over the past two weeks, I have opened numerous bottles of Alexandre’s second wine, the ’09 La Gravette Certan, which I am actually sharing with my team as I write to you all – that’s four bottles in ten days!
Of course, the grand-vin is always going to outperform its junior sibling, and as it should, but the enjoyment this humble Bordeaux delivers has been a revelation. Last night, I sat enjoying a bottle with the warming glow of my fire keeping me company and it certainly added to the emotional experience. I sat for an age swirling and sniffing– the aromatics were simply glorious and compelling enough to force me to write this article.
For me, Bordeaux (at its best) delivers an ineffable sense of completeness and a symmetry that I cannot find from Australia. Some are masterpieces and I am beholden to the amazing tapestry of complexity which they offer. The greats are perfectly balanced and provide the purist finishes I have ever encountered. In all, I feel that I am betraying my Australian wife, one who I respect and love dearly. One who I would not want to live without. One who provides a good standard of living for my team and I, however and perhaps just occasionally, I need my mistress, which I hope you forgive me for…
Stu’s HQ ‘classics’ cellar… It would be a great Lloyd Grossman moment if we had the key!
Check out our Bordeaux Sale
Musings From Australia
Jaysen Collins from JC’s Own wines provides an insight into vintages 2019 and 2020. He also gives a taste of what it is like to work a harvest in USA.
Who would have thought that recalling a vintage would be so hard? One thing I love about the wine industry is that you can recollect the years and the seasons, the time, the general feeling from year to year, as it is the main part of what we do. Unfortunately, it also means the years can whizz by, meaning the fat and old bit just sprint alongside lately seemingly faster. But didn’t 2020 just throw a big stinking turd in that utopian mind set. Trying to pluck out the ebbs and flows of the previous year is tough, as this year feels like an eternity, so I’ve opened a bottle of 2019 wine to unleash the memories.
I do remember the euphoria of the Barossa coming off the wonderful phenomenon of what we all call an ‘average’ year in 2018. The Barossa generational grape growers are a humble lot, average tends to focus on what the vineyards produced, not the quality. Needless to say, 2018 is bloody good. 2017 had the largest yields we’d seen for a while so you can understand why they brought out this terminology for 2018. Then rolled in a dry winter during 2018 and with some dry soil heading into late spring, once the clear sunny days came, we unfortunately got smashed by some frosts. We can handle this we thought, until the wind whipped through in flowering and knocked the vines around. So, drought, frost and wind basically gave us a tiny yielding, small berried year for 2019 – shit for grape growers unfortunately, but great for winemakers.
I also get to traverse south along the Mount Lofty Ranges to the Adelaide Hills for some grapes. With the expanse of this GI and the undulating nature of this region, it is really hard to generalise. Again, issues at flowering effected yield, meaning small crops and concentrated wines, again good for wine quality but damaging to a vigneron’s emotional state of mind. I worked with two new vineyards for this season, so I had no barometer for how they were, but I was very happy with the resultant wines, so I put up my hand for the 2020 vintage which is the only way I can endorse the vineyard.
Another thing in the favour of the Hills, they tend to avoid the South Australian searing heat, so the 2019 wines have ripeness with energy and drive from slower ripening.
It was a pretty snappy harvest to be honest, maybe time for more lunches down the Greenock pub than normal, but what I've bottled across the regions that I work with looks exactly like that; snappy, fresh and vibrant.
In September I ventured to California for the 2019 harvest, my fifth year in a row. I got into wine because I love the physical nature of it – I love doing the work. The reason I enjoy harvest with my mates Matthew and Danielle in the USA, is I just get to work in and around the harvest without the full on logistical challenge that is vintage time when you are in control. My dreams of a few punch downs in the morning and reading a book in the hammock followed by a nap were quickly shattered. They had the complete opposite to our harvest – perfect ripening, still some really good quality but with yields up on previous years. So, what was meant to be a bit of a switch off mentally became serious. My yearly strutting and posing around my friend’s cellar turned into actual hard work. It was a year for yin and yang for harvest for me.
All in all, it just reflects that wine is essentially a primary production venture that relies on a lot of parameters in each and every season. That’s why we put the vintage on a bottle. That is why we are enamoured with trying the same wine year after year from the same vineyard. It is like a great song that can evoke memories of a time and place. It will also be the year before 2020 that may, unfortunately be overshadowed, given the quality of the wines.
2018 JC's Single Vineyard Greenock Shiraz
Strong but Sensual as JC likes to call it...
97++ Stuart McCloskey “The perfume is simply glorious and unfurls with coffee, chocolate, blackberry, dark cherry, raspberry, leafy / herbal notes, sweet spice, clove, warm earth following a downpour, liquorice and a dusting of white pepper. The palate is supple, with satiny fruit effortlessly sailing across my palate. There is richness but it’s handled judiciously – minerality striking a firm cord. This is a grown-up, sophisticated Shiraz which is immensely pleasing. Dark raspberry sweetness juxtaposed wonderfully with the French oak and lithe tannins. This is beautiful. Really beautiful and in all honesty, has taken me by surprise. The spice develops as do the flavours (plums) which expand with each passing minute. This is full of charisma and will only get better (drink now to 2035). Ensure to decant for 2-4 hours. Served using Zalto Bordeaux glassware. A standout Shiraz.”
RRP £36.50 per bottle
This weekend only £31.95 per bottle
** offer ends 9:00AM Monday **
Stella Bella Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
A collaborative tasting note from both
Stu and Magda scoring 96++ Points
(Well one scored 97 and one scored 96+ hence the 96++)
"Sampled after 3 hours of decanting. Rich aromas waft from the glass with mulberries, redcurrants and cassis. Hints of menthol, clove and cedar complete a very classical perfume. The fruit is plentiful and the tannins on-point. Classic with a plush, modern twist. An effortless Cabernet which glides across my palate with consummate ease and grace. Thoughtful, detailed and proportioned beautifully… As a side note, Stuart Pym (Flowstone founder and winemaker) founded Stella Bella wines over 20 years ago and remains their Consultant Winemaker. His intimate knowledge of Margaret River and great winemaking skill certainly shines through."
£21.00 per bottle
** Only 60 bottles available **
Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
98 Points - Stuart McCloskey
“A truly fabulous bouquet which unfurls with such grace – Violets, an abundance of mineral-laden black & blue fruits, fresh pencil shavings, menthol, ink and some warmth (more from the quality of the vintage rather than alcohol). The palate is softly spoken, tannins lacy and svelte - oodles of textural finesse. Perfect symmetry which is something special for such a young wine. Medium-bodied, ultra-fine and screams quality - there isn’t a hair out of place. Ethereal, alluring, sensual and offers a lovely regal quality. As good as any recently released Aussie Cabernet. Just magnificent. Truly so… Decanted for 2-3 hours and served with Zalto Bordeaux glassware. Drinking wonderfully now however, this will be mesmeric in a decade…”
£27.95 per bottle
Rymill Maturation Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
96 Points - Stuart McCloskey
“The perfume has developed wondrously over the course of the day (4-6 hours decanting is a must) with black raspberry, plum, violet, bay leaf, white pepper, lead pencil, cedar, and dusty earth unfurling. The palate starts with sweeter fruit notes and falls to mineral, cedar, dried herbs and tobacco. There’s lots of brightness thanks to the streak of acidity – graceful and light on its feet which I enjoy. Classic Claret-esque and reminds me of Château Lynch Bages from 2004. Dusty tannins on the finish. A lovely wine which will appeal to those seeking mature sophistication (without crippling one’s wallet). Drink now through to 2023.”
£21.95 per bottle
Corryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
97 Points - Stuart McCloskey “A heavenly nose of cassis, plum, soy, graphite and lots of mineralite at play here. With time, cedar / pencil box aromatics unfold. The palate speaks more of finesse than power. Incredibly complex and not overly tannic. The entry is sweet, ambitious with ripe, silky black fruits. Texturally, and impossible to miss, is the sense of finesse and grace which weaves its magic and is seldom seen in the Barossa. Cedar and graphite-infused fruit emerge but I keep coming back to the wines beguiling poise. Svelte and sensuous with a little wood dust which adds a lovely texture. Think expensive Bordeaux Second-Growth and you’ll be right on the money”. Served in Zalto Bordeaux glass.
£24.95 per bottle
Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Gold Medal at 2015 Decanter World Wine Awards
Gold Medal at the Sydney Royal Wine Show 2016
97 Points – James Halliday "Margaret River, Coonawarra. Full red-purple; a potent, powerful cabernet, the focus on blackcurrant fruit, complexity provided by bay leaf/black olive/mint nuances; French oak is where is should be (on the shoulder of the fruit) and the tannins, while firm, hold no terrors."
Every purchase of 6 bottles will receive the original wooden case.
Was £37.50 per bottle
Now £31.45 per bottle
Stella Bella Serie Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
97++ Points - Stuart McCloskey “The years have been kind however, it’s got a bright future ahead (perhaps another five or so years). The aromas are deep, rich and savoury ranging from scorched earth, briar, leather, lead pencil, liquorice, exotic spice and a touch of menthol which intermix beautifully with ripe blueberry and blackcurrant. The palate is the truest expression of Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon and offers a lavish wash of the same blueberry and blackcurrant fruits and those who (like me) are fanatical home harvesters, will spot oodles of fennel seed. There’s warmth from the earth rather than alcohol – dried herbs and cedar too. A smidgeon of vanilla and plum… All-in-all, a particularly exquisite wine which will offer much happiness. Served with Zalto Bordeaux glassware – Decant for 1-2 hours.”
£39.95 per bottle
Elderton Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Winemaker " Concentrated dark fruits fill the palate with hints of chocolate, supported by very fine elegant tannins that lead to a long and seamless finish. Full bodied, rich & classy.
Above average rainfall during winter, followed by a cooler than average spring, ensured adequate soil moisture for healthy canopy development. The cooler unseasonal conditions prevailed during January and February delaying veraison. Autumn saw the start of an Indian summer which continued well into April, resulting in perfect ripening conditions on the Valley floor for gradual development of flavour, with very fine grained tannins and excellent retention of natural acidity. The 2017 Elderton Estate Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon is a fresh and very pure fruit driven wine with an underlying elegance, depictive of a cooler Barossa vintage."
£18.50 per bottle
Andre Roger Grande Reserve Grand Cru NV
97+ Points - Stuart McCloskey “There’s a lovely depth to the bouquet which opens beautifully to crisp orchard fruit, lemon zest, toast, baked apple, wild honey, and a cornucopia of spring flowers. As anticipated from Grand Cru fruit, the palate feel is highly textural, broad and multidimensional. It sparkles on the palate with a core of crisp, orchard fruits. The acidity races across one’s palate which works miracles with the rich, honeyed creaminess. Salinity, acidity and minerality drive the wine and provide wonderful tension and a juiciness which I love. Chalk on the super-long finish. A Champagne which surpasses itself and a wine which will be drinking beautifully for the next 7-10 years. Do not overchill and keep it away from flutes. Try Zalto’s Universal glassware as we did (great result).”
97 Points - Magdalena Sienkiewicz "The assemblage is Pinot Noir 75% and Chardonnay 25%. The perfume exhibits beautiful complexities. Roasted apples, pears and flowers jump to the forefront but don’t overshadow the gentle notes of citrus, apricots, ripe figs and toasted almonds. The superb combination of structure, length and vigour are distinctive to a Grand Cru quality which this Grande Reserve isn’t shy of. Similar to its alluring perfume, the palate offers exuberance and complexity without losing the sense of control and elegance. Incredibly smooth given its scale. This Champagne will suit those seeking generosity. This is exactly what we were looking for in our house fizz and delivered at exceptional value."
£30.50 per bottle
Majella Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
96 Points - James Halliday "This hits the bullseye, a great example of the synergy between place and variety. Its colour is good, as is the bouquet, and that arrow arrives the moment the wine enters the mouth. It has waves of luscious, juicy red and black fruits that fill every corner of the palate, tannins and oak doing the job expected of them."
£21.00 per bottle
Majella The Musician Cabernet Shiraz 2016
James Halliday "A 70/30% blend, fermented in stainless steel and oak, matured for 6 months with minimal oak contact before blending. Great colour; one of life's sweet mysteries is keeping the price identical to that of the first release in '04. It is a joyous wine, revelling in its blend of blackcurrant, blackberry and plum fruit. Made with minimal oak contact, retaining maximum fruit freshness."
£12.75 per bottle
Stella Bella Wines Otro Vino The Italian 2018
Winemaker: In homage to the classics of Tuscany, this vino evokes the essence of Italy. Wild fermented Sangiovese with a splash of Merlot, it is captivating and filled with charm. Vespa red in colour it oozes with scents of cherries, violets and red currants. Medium bodied and light on its feet with subtle tannin, the palate is driven by raspberry and cherry fruit. Defined by fresh acidity and savoury curves that give length, depth and lineage. Pure charisma and Italian style... Bella!
£18.50 per bottle
Stella Bella Wines Otro Vino The Italian 2018
95++ Points, Stuart McCloskey "Whilst writing, I am sipping on a new wine from the Stella Bella stable. Otro Vino Chardonnay which and to quote them translates to ‘Other wine. Adventurous, creative, exotic, and explorative hand-crafted wines.’ I like it. In fact, I like it very much. It lacks the concentration of the Suckfizzle, but the same winemaking philosophy is matched. Sea spray, citrus and offers a lovely texture. A more detailed tasting note will be released soon. Highly recommended and should really be retailing for at least five pounds more a bottle.
£16.50 per bottle
We introduce a stunning Champagne matured on the seabed.
Available in extremely limited quantities
Zalto is Back...
We'll explain more next week.
Beautifully crafted, hand-blown, crystal glasses that are designed to enhance the specific characteristics of different wines. Incredibly light but also strong, Zalto glasses are by far the very best glasses to improve any bottle of wine.
Read Last Week's Magazine: Issue 136
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