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Updated: 19 min 40 sec ago

California’s Ramey wines: Latest releases tasted

1 hour 46 min ago

See exclusive tasting notes and ratings on the latest releases from California's Ramey Wine Cellars...

Ramey's first estate vineyard, Westside Farms.Ramey in brief:

Introduction by James Button

David Ramey founded his eponymous winery with wife Carla in 1996, while he was still working as the winemaker at Dominus.

Given the freedom to start this side project making Chardonnay, his first vintage was made from fruit sourced from Hyde Vineyards. He soon began buying in fruit from Rudd – who he joined as winemaker in 1998 – and in 2001 produced his first Cabernets with fruit from Diamond Mountain and Jericho Canyon.

Scroll down to see Elin McCoy’s Ramey tasting notes

It wasn’t until 2012 that Ramey purchased his first vineyard, Westside Farms in Healdsburg, Russian River Valley, with 17ha of vines.

David’s work at Ramey is the culmination of all his previous experiences; long hang times for the fruit to ensure maximum ripeness, barrel fermenting with wild yeasts, and ageing on the lees.

His Chardonnays are often ripe, but Ramey also prizes balance alongside power. ‘We also need to bring out finesse and minerality,’ he told Decanter for the magazine’s California supplement last year.

Coming soon: Read Elin McCoy’s interview with David Ramey in the July 2018 issue of Decanter magazine, and online exclusively for Decanter Premium subscribers
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Jefford on Monday: Delta wine

8 hours 3 min ago

Andrew Jefford discovers Costières de Nîmes...

Vines in the 'delta' of Costières de Nîmes.

At last: a solution to the vexed identity of the Costières de Nîmes.  It was Michel Gassier, for long one of the zone’s most dynamic growers, who pointed it out when I travelled to the region recently.  It’s not Languedoc, and it’s not Provençe, either.  It’s the Camargue.  Costières de Nîmes is the key wine-growing zone of Western Europe’s largest river delta, famed for its semi-wild white horses, its marshy bird life, its ferocious mosquitos and its little black fighting bulls.

Identity has long been a key question for growers here.  The region began the modern era as VDQS ‘Costières de Gard’ in 1951.  Since Gard counted as a Languedoc regional département, that put it in the Languedoc family.  In 1989, though, it switched to the Rhône family (and remember that around 30% of Côtes de Rhône in fact comes from the Gard) when it acquired its Costières de Nîmes appellation.

The switch was challenging at first: ‘All the Languedoc merchants said “bye-bye”,’ remembered Gassier, ‘and all the Rhône merchants said “We don’t need you”.’  The region turned to export, which still accounts for 40% of production in value terms.

You might be thinking that a gigantic, mosquito-plagued delta doesn’t sound like great terroir.  If that’s all it was, you’d be right.  This, though, is where the Rhône identity mingles with the Camarguais.  The Rhône reaches the sea via a multitude of ever-changing mouths, as it always has done, and the braided river has, over hundreds of thousands of years, dumped huge terraces and banks of rolled pebbles en route – most famously, the galets roulés of Châteauneuf du Pape.

The Costières de Nîmes occupies another such area of raised pebble banks, clearly standing 30 metres or so above the marshy delta itself – indeed this is the biggest single ‘terrace villafranchien’ in the whole of the Rhône (the Villafranchian is the geological age, between 3.5 and 1 million years ago, during which most of this action happened).

Viticulture here pre-dates Roman times, beginning with the Greek colonists who founded Marseilles and other southern French cities.  The beautiful 18th century maps created for the whole of France by four generations of the Cassini family also reveal around 10,000ha of vines on these terraces.  Nowadays the vines occupy 4,500ha.  The cowboys of the Camargue (called gardians here) have always had wine to wash down their steak.

Is it a different terroir to Châteauneuf?  Certainly.  It’s much closer to the sea, and much more clearly maritime.

‘The sea wind comes in every afternoon in summer,’ points out Jérôme Castillon of Château l’Ermitage, ‘and the temperature drops from 36˚C to 31˚C.’  These ‘maritime entrants’, as they are locally called, always bring moist air as well as cooling breezes – and that’s something the Mourvèdre loves.  This is a very long-established variety here; indeed it was often known in the Southern Rhône as the ‘plant de St-Gilles’, Ste Gilles being a village in the middle of the great Costières terrace.

The region’s other key variety is Syrah (2,500ha out of the 4,500ha) of fleshy, voluptuous style.  Grenache makes up the trilogy, but it is less widely planted here than in Châteauneuf; there is Carignan, too.  The mistral, by the way, blows less forcefully here than in Châteauneuf, and Costières de Nîmes has fewer sandy zones.

Most of the wines here are red (55%), but the rosé boom means that 35% are pink; yet the remaining 10% of whites can impress.  Indeed Costières de Nîmes encloses the old historical white wine appellation of Clairette de Bellegarde – but only 7ha of that remain in cultivation today, and all of the really exciting Clairette is found up in Châteauneuf.  The region has a project to get two internal crus (or rather ‘complementary geographical denominations’, since the word cru is a sensitive one in Rhône culture) recognised: St Roman in the north, and Franquevaux in the south, for wines made with stricter production regulations than basic Costières de Nîmes.

The big challenge for the Costières de Nîmes, as for all of the satellite appellations which cluster around the ‘core’ of the Rhône, is to be taken seriously.  Bulk prices for the Costières lag those of the Côtes de Rhône, and you can’t make fine wine without being rewarded for the sacrifices it requires.  The top wines of the region’s leading estates, though, find consumers at a retail price of between 20 and 30 euros, so the quality ladder is in place.  The cowboys intend to climb it.

Tasting Costières de Nîmes

My notes are based on a blind tasting of 40 Costières de Nîmes reds, complemented by sighted tastings of both reds and whites at three further domains (all of which had also submitted red wines for the blind tasting).  Here is a selection of ten of the best.



Read more Andrew Jefford columns on

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Decanter’s debut tasting in Beijing

9 hours 54 min ago

Decanter hosted its first tasting event in Beijing, China on Saturday 19 May 2018, following events organised in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul.

Five top award-winners were featured in Professor LI Demei's masterclass to demonstrate the quality of the DAWA

Decanter has hosted its first-ever wine tasting event in partnership with ASC Fine Wines, at the Park Hyatt Hotel, last Saturday 19 May. Masterclass tickers were sold out within two weeks of going on sale.

Chinese wine lovers had the chance to taste 55 award-winning wines.

The event showcased 55 winning wines from the Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) to over 150 Chinese wine lovers.

The wines showcased included 10 winners that won Gold medals and above.

Attendees were able to taste wines from 12 countries and regions including France, Italy, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, as well as wines that are rarely available in the Chinese wine scene, such as Georgia. 10 wines that have won Gold medals and above were also available to taste.

Guest checking the label of the Grand Tasting wine

Professor LI Demei, DAWA vice-chair and columnist, hosted a masterclass to introduce five top medal winning wines (two Golds, and three Platinums) which he has personally selected to demonstrate the quality of the DAWA.

Professor LI Demei’s masterclass was extremely popular.

The wines include:

  • Leeuwin Estate, Art Series Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia, Australia 2014 – Gold, 95 points
  • Shanxi Grace Vineyard, Tasya’s Reserve Marselan, Shanxi, China 2015 – Platinum Best in Show: Best Red Single-Varietal, 95 points
  • Santa Alba, Grand Reserve Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon, Curicó, Chile 2014 – Platinum: Best Chilean Blend, 95 points
  • Bodegas Ondarre, Rioja Reserva, Mainland Spain, Spain 2014 – Platinum: Best Red Rioja Reserva, 95 points
  • Bodega Norton, Gernot Langes, Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina 2010 – Gold, 97 points

Guests taking notes at the Top DAWA Winners Masterclass

Ms. Dorian Tang, National Wine Education Director of ASC Fine Wines, who also judges at the DAWA, hosted a second masterclass to present rare back vintages of the leading Spanish producer Bodegas Muga, which have also won Decanter awards.

The line-up of the Muga Masterclass includes: Blanco, Rioja Genéricos 2016, Rosado, Rioja 2016, Rioja Reserva 2013, Prado Enea, Rioja Gran Reserva 2001, 2004, and 2009

Guest tasting at the Muga Masterclass hosted by Ms. Dorian Tang.

Watch live recording of both materclasses here See past events coverage here

Guest tasting at the Grand Tasting of DAWA Beijing 2018 event. Some 60 wines were showcased at the event.

The Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA) is Asia’s most trusted wine competition. First launched in 2012, the competition aims to provide consumers with a trusted source of wine recommendations.

Search DAWA 2017 results

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Pewsey Vale: The original Eden Valley Riesling

Sun, 20/05/2018 - 14:30

Pewsey Vale celebrate their 170th anniversary this year. Sarah Ahmed tastes some current and museum releases of their dry Eden Valley Rieslings...

Pewsey Vale vineyards

Pewsey Vale’s founder, Joseph Gilbert, sourced its vines from pioneering viticulturist William Macarthur, who imported German cuttings from the Rheingau. Planted in 1847, these formed Eden Valley’s first Riesling vineyard, and soon developed a reputation.

Reporting in the South Australian Advertiser in 1861, Ebenezer Ward described Pewsey Vale’s Riesling as ‘fragrant, delicate and pure’, adding that the 1854 out-performed ‘choice Hock …the best wine of its class ever imported.’

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Colchagua producers: six names to watch

Sun, 20/05/2018 - 13:00

Colchagua is home to some of Chile’s biggest names in wine. Alistair Cooper MW picks six producers to watch...

Viu ManentColchagua producers: six names to watch Beso Negro

A venture between Kiwi winemaker Grant Phelps (ex-Viu Manent and Casas del Bosque), Princess Tunku Soraya Dakhlah of Malaysia and her husband Sharif Majid (who bought land here a decade ago), plus business partners. Two wines are currently made from differing blends of Carmenère, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah: El Libertino and El Decadente. They are full-bodied and powerful yet with real elegance.

Clos Santa Ana

Luiz Allegretti and Roberto Ibarra’s young organic project is already producing stunning wines. The talented duo of Luca Hodgkinson and José Miguel Sotomayor (‘the Wildmakers’) are consultants, with three wines currently produced. Old foudres made of raulí (a type of beech wood) and amphorae are used for fermentation and the wines are unfiltered. The flagship is Aralez, a blend of Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; while Velo is a flor-aged, old-vine blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.


Raúl Narvaéz and Angeles Ovalle bought 11ha in 2009 in Palmilla, 8km north of Santa Cruz, but didn’t plant until three years later so they could get biodynamic certification. Just 2.3ha are under vine – mainly Malbec and Carmenère – yet they are experimenting with Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan among others. Fanoa’s aim is to produce fresher styles, with little or no oak used in the winemaking. Currently it produces the Seis Tintos blend, plus a Sangiovese and Malbec – all show great promise.


Founded in 2006 by the Undurraga family in Los Lingues, in the Andean foothills. Thanks to head winemaker Cristóbal Undurraga, great purity shines throughout the range, and the coastal project in Paredones is producing compelling Sauvignon Blancs under the Costa label. Koyle makes excellent-value Syrah, while the premium Auma is a muscular blend of Carmenère, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It also has an excellent Muscat and Cinsault from Itata under the Don Cande range.


Own Wine Makers was founded in 2009 by cousins Jaime Núñez (viticulturist) and José Antonio Bravo (winemaker). Today they make five wines – a total of 20,000 bottles. Carmenère, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon are the main focus. The wines are classically Colchagua: ripe, succulent, deep and brooding but with great focus and acidity.

Viu Manent

Under head winemaker Patricio Celedón, Viu Manent has pushed towards lighter styles over the past five years, picking earlier and using older foudres and less new oak. It owns 254ha over three sites in Colchagua, and Malbec is a focus, though the ViBo Punta del Viento GSM blend is worth seeking out.

Alistair Cooper MW spent years working for wineries in Argentina and Chile. He is a regular Decanter contributor and judge, and the resident wine expert for BBC Radio Oxford

This first appeared as part of the Colchagua regional profile in the June 2018 issue of Decanter. Decanter Premium members can read the full article here. 

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Royal Wedding wine: Pol Roger Champagne served

Sat, 19/05/2018 - 15:31

Pol Roger Champagne has been confirmed as one of the wines served to hundreds of guests at the official lunch reception following the Royal Wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Champagne Pol Roger wines lined up for Masterclass guests at the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter 2015.

The Palace and Royal Household confirmed on Saturday (19 May) that a non-vintage Champagne, Pol Roger Brut Réserve NV, would be one of the names on a Royal Wedding wine list that has remained a closely guarded secret.

The Pol Roger Champagne, a blend of 30 base wines across at least three vintages, was on Saturday available for £45 per bottle from Waitrose and for £40.99 if bought as part of a mixed case of six wines at Majestic.

Pol Roger already has a Royal Warrant and is notorious in wine circles as the favourite Champagne of Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s famous wartime Prime Minister.

Pol Roger non-vintage Champagne was also served at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, back in 2011.

Other wines to be served at the reception for Harry and Meghan, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, remained a mystery.

There had been speculation around the possibility of a Californian wine making the cut, with Markle understood to enjoy the wines of several producers in her home state.

It had also been thought likely that an English sparkling wine could be served. Camel Valley in Cornwall was recently awarded a Royal Warrant, while Chapel Down was on the table at William and Kate’s wedding.

There is also Great Windsor Park sparkling, dubbed the ‘Queen’s English wine’ because it is made on the Windsor Park estate, near to where the newly-weds are celebrating.

Markle, meanwhile, has previously expressed a liking for Tignanello, the ‘Super Tuscan’ wine produced by Antinori.

However, only Pol Roger had been confirmed as on the list by the time of the reception, which was to be held for 600 guests in St George’s Hall in Windsor Castle.

Canapes served:
  • Scottish Langoustines wrapped in Smoked Salmon with Citrus Crème Fraiche
  • Grilled English Asparagus wrapped in Cumbrian Ham
  • Garden Pea Panna Cotta with Quail Eggs and Lemon Verbena
  • Heritage Tomato and Basil Tartare with Balsamic Pearls
  • Poached Free Range Chicken bound in a Lightly Spiced Yoghurt with Roasted Apricot
  • Croquette of Confit Windsor Lamb, Roasted Vegetables and Shallot Jam
  • Warm Asparagus Spears with Mozzarella and Sun-Blush Tomatoes
For Premium members: See Decanter’s Champagne tasting notes and ratings Take our Royal wine quiz

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Spanish wine and tapas pairing guide

Sat, 19/05/2018 - 13:30

Planning a trip to Spain? Learn how to pair wine and tapas like a local with our expert guide, featuring advice from three of Spain's top sommeliers...

Tapas and wine Appetisers + Sherry or Cava sparkling wine

A match made in tapas heaven: Manchego cheese and chilled Fino Sherry… Credit:

The tapas: Manchego cheese, jamón ibérico, olives, anchovies

The wines:

‘As these dishes are generally serve as an aperitif, opt for either a dry Fino or a Manzanilla Sherry,’ advised François Chartier, sommelier at Sofia Be So restaurant in Barcelona.

Custodio López Zamarra – head sommelier at  Spain’s first three Michelin starred restaurant, Zalacain, for over 40 years – explained why tapas with jamón, salami or chorizo can be tricky:

‘Traditionally it is recommended to pair meat with red wine, but saltier meat dishes like these are more complicated as they enhance tannins and acidity. Instead I advise pairing a dry still or sparkling white wine like Cava.’

José Martínez, the long-standing sommelier at Via Veneto restaurant in Barcelona, agreed:

‘The lactic aromas you can find in some Cavas, due to malolactic fermentation, balances the acidity. Plus the oily texture of olives and anchovies blends perfectly with sparkling wine.’

SEE ALSO: Wine and charcuterie pairing Peppery tomato tapas + Rosado or light red wines

Galician octopus, served with potatoes and plenty of paprika. Credit: Porto de Rinlo / WikiCommons

The tapas: Pan con tomate, patatas bravas, padrón peppers, Galician octopus

The wines:

‘These tapas are dominated by the presence of tomato and peppery spices like paprika’ explained Chartier.

‘Therefore they belong to the realm of the rosado (rosé) wines, including pink Cava.

‘Also light red wines – especially those that are fresh and unoaked in style. Look out for wines made from indigenous Catalonian grape varieties like Trepat or Sumoll – these match perfectly with the perfume of the small delicious pimientos de padrón.’

SEE ALSO: Great rosé wines with food Fried tapas + Sherry or dry white wines

Sommeliers say you need a refreshing white wine style to pair with rich tapas like tortilla… Credit:

The tapas: Tortilla, croquetas, calamares

The wines:

‘With the fried calamares (squid) and croquetas, as well as the oily element of the tortilla, you need a wine that can refresh the palate,’ advised Chartier.

Martínez recommends Sherry:

‘Oloroso or Amontillado are dominated by toast aromas from long periods of oak ageing, ideal to combine with fried tapas like calamares or Andalusian fried fish tapas, known as pescaíto frito.’

‘I recommend playing with the temperatures of these wines’, said Martínez, ‘enjoy them a little colder, as they usually have 15-20% abv.’

Not a Sherry fan? Try pairing a dry and youthful white wine, such as Albariño from Rías Baíxas, ‘it has a citrus element that compliments the flavours of these tapas’, said Martínez.

Final golden rule

In Spain, the wine and food cultures have grown intertwined over thousands of years, meaning that your best bet could be simply pairing wine and tapas from the same locale.

‘The most important factor to take into account is the region,’ said Martínez.

‘Combining tapas with wines from the same place is sure to be a hit. Nature is very wise.’

A bit about the sommeliers

François Chartier, consultant sommelier at Sofia Be So in Barcelona. The self-styled ‘molecular sommelier’ and former winner of the Best Sommelier in the World competition, Chartier has written prolifically on finding ‘harmonies’ between food and wine, based on their shared chemical compounds.

Custodio López Zamarra, consultant sommelier at Restaurante Azáfran in Castilla-La Mancha. Custodio is one of Spain most respected sommeliers, he worked for over 40 years at Zalacain – the country’s first ever three-Michelin restaurant. Though retired, he consults at Restaurante Azáfran in Castilla-La Mancha.

José Martínez, sommelier at Via Veneto, a Michelin-starred Catalan restaurant in the heart of Barcelona, which has served the likes of Salvador Dalí, Gabriel García Márquez and Richard Nixon.

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What does it mean when a wine ‘tastes green’? – ask Decanter

Sat, 19/05/2018 - 08:28

Heard wine tasters referring to a wine ‘tasting green’ or ‘green flavours'? We ask the experts.

How can a wine taste green?What does it mean when a wine ‘tastes green’? – ask Decanter

A wine tasting ‘green’ is not the same as having flavours from the ‘green fruit’ category, such as green apple, pear and grape.

It is also not the same as ‘Vinho Verde’ (or green wines) in Portugal.

A wine tasting ‘green’ commonly refers to underripe characteristics; suggesting that some grapes could have been picked slightly before full ripeness was achieved. The wine could smell or taste slightly green vegetables, like green bell pepper, for example.

‘All wines can display this character if the grapes are picked before they are ripe, just like with any other fruit.,’ said Julia Sewell, sommelier at Noble Rot and Decanter World Wine Awards judge.

‘In cooler climates or challenging vintages, this flavour character can be more likely to occur, as the winemaker can sometimes be forced by weather conditions to harvest earlier than is ideal, or indeed the grapes may never ripen fully if the cold part of autumn arrives early.’

This can be a problem with Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, which needs enough heat and time to ripen fully. It has also been associated with Carmenère, a well-known late ripener.

In Decanter’s tasting notes decoded series, it is explained that such green notes in some wines from certain vintages are believed to be caused by a chemical compound called pyrazine.

Why does this matter?

There is some debate over the extent to which green flavours in wine should be seen as a serious problem.

Jane Anson addresses green flavours in her guide to tasting wines en primeur.

When examining the fruit, ‘it’s not just how much fruit there is, but what type of fruit’, she writes.

‘They might be slightly underripe, which means slight green flavours…. If you’ve got fruit that is underripe and green flavoured, then it might never get to the point that it tastes good to drink.’

Sewell added: ‘A ‘green’ wine tends to become even more green as it ages, perhaps indicating that it is not advisable to purchase if these characteristics are not appealing.’

More wine questions answered

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‘Cru Artisans’ wine classification re-launched in Médoc

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 17:25

Bordeaux has this week seen the re-launch of a classification designed to give recognition to some of the smaller-scale wine producers beyond the Médoc's more famous names.

Maxime Saint-Martin is the new president of the Cru Artisan ranking.

The Cru Artisans du Médoc, a grouping of small family run estates found in all appellations across the Médoc peninsula, has launched a new list where the number of estates has shrunk from 44 to 36 estates.

This is a reflection, according to the press release, of how many ‘Cru Artisan’ estates have been sold over the past 10 years since the previous ranking was compiled in 2006, as well as a number of producers who have retired.

These include Château Beheré in Pauillac that has now been incorporated into Château Pedesclaux and Château La Pèyre in St-Estèphe that was bought by Bernard Magrez and has become Clos Sanctus Perfectus.

There are however eight new estates: Châteaux Andron, Haut Brisey, Haut Couloumey in AOC Médoc, Pey Mallet in AOC Haut-Médoc, Ch Dacher de Delmonte in AOC Listrac-Médoc and Châteaux Marceline, Linot and Graves de Pez.

The average surface of the estates remains unchanged at 10ha but the ranking will be renewed every five years from now (so this holds up to 2021) instead of the previous ten.

Admission to Cru Artisan depends on visit of the estate (40% of mark) and a blind tasting (60% of the note) by a jury of brokers, merchants and oenologists.

Maxime Saint-Martin, president of Crus Artisans du Médoc and owner of Ch Graves de Pez, told at a recent tasting, ‘These are small-scale wineries where the owner is present at every stage of production, from the vineyard to the cellar.

‘There is no minimum or maximum size for membership, and it is a philosophical choice in many ways. These owners want to be close to their vineyards at every step of the process.’

The full Cru Artisans list is: Médoc

Château Andron,

Château Béjac Romelys,

Château Gadet Terrefort,

Château Garance Haut Grenat

Château Haut Blaignan

Château Haut Brisey

Château Haut Couloumey

Château Haut Gravat

Château La Tessonnière

Château Les Graves de Loirac

Château Vieux Gadet


Château de Coudot

Château Moutte Blanc

Château Pey Mallet

Château de Lauga

Château d’Osmond

Château du Hâ

Château Grand Brun

Château Grand Lafont

Château Lamongeau

Château Le Bouscat

Château Micalet

Château Tour Bel Air

Château Tour du Goua

Château Viallet Nouhant

Château Vieux Gabarey


Château Dacher de Delmonte


Château Clos de Bigos

Château des Graviers

Château Les Barraillots

Château Moutte Blanc


Château Lagorce Bernadas


Château Marceline

Château Linot

Château Graves de Pez


Château Fleur Lauga

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Top Sauternes 2017 wines

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 14:56

Jane Anson's scores and tasting notes for the Sauternes 2017 wines, exclusive to Decanter Premium members...

The Sauternes 2017 en primeur tastingSee all Sauternes 2017 wines 


Some wonderfully rich and ripe Sauternes and Barsac wines can be found in the Bordeaux 2017 vintage, but unusually the brilliant dry white wine vintage does not quite so easily translate to a truly exceptional sweet wine one this year.




Back to the main Bordeaux en primeur page

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The Royal wine quiz – Test your knowledge

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 13:53

To mark a certain Royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, this week's quiz is on wine with a regal link. See if you are fit to wear the crown...

Queen Elizabeth II and Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos at Buckingham Palace. Start the Royal wine quiz below


More wine quizzes here

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Hugh Johnson: When bottles surprise you

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 09:09

Hugh Johnson considers those times when your highly anticipated bottles end up a disappointment...

‘Two very prestigious Burgundies failed to light any fires.’

Oenogenius Len Evans (who kickstarted modern Australian wine) was so convinced of the importance of great wines that he endowed a course for young wine professionals that included tastings of the first growths, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines and the ultimate icons in each ‘style’, as Australians call them. The Len Evans Tutorials are still going strong 17 years later.

Writers sometimes feel a duty to genuflect in the direction of ‘the greats’. Perhaps Andrew Jefford expresses their achievements best: ‘Wines of outstanding beauty and resonance, leaving the drinker with a sense of wonder.’ These are our aspirational models; or are they? I’m not so sure anymore. The existence of Rembrandt doesn’t devalue less exalted painters, or detract from our enjoyment of them, or discourage us from having a little daub ourselves.

You can be so in awe of a first growth, though, waiting for a miraculous revelation, that you cease to think of it as a drink. And the downside, of course, is as precipitous as your hopes are high. It is the reason I avoid multi-starred restaurants: if they’re less than perfect, I feel conned.

The other night I opened what I hoped would be a pretty snappy line-up for, among others, Steven Spurrier. He was too polite to say so, but two very prestigious Burgundies failed to light any fires.

Both were Chambolle-Musigny premiers crus; Les Fremières 2007 from Leroy, and Les Amoureuses 1999 from Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier. The first had the expensively wild note that makes Domaine Leroy wines Burgundy’s most exciting – but this was snapping at its cage, and losing energy in the process. The Amoureuses, my favourite vineyard of all – and not just for its name – simply tasted muffled, soft-focused. A top vintage, 19 years old, has no business doing that.

‘There are no great wines; only great bottles’ is always true. The corollary is that there are also great bottles of not-great wine, and that these are the ones that double your pleasure by adding surprise. We had proof that evening: a left-field wine that no one would ever identify. ‘Yquem?’ was the first suggestion.

The answer? Château Lion, Noble d’Or 1985 from… wait for it… Japan’s Suntory. The Yamanashi region wins. For complete satisfaction, your mind should be as open as your mouth.

Hugh Johnson OBE is a world-renowned wine writer

Read more articles from Decanter magazine’s June 2018 issue

For Premium members

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Great value wines for the weekend under £20

Fri, 18/05/2018 - 08:30

Watching the Royal Wedding this weekend? Make sure you have one of these English wines to toast to the occasion...

Great value wines under £20

English still and sparkling wines are going from strength to strength.

Whether you’re watching the Royal Wedding this weekend, or just enjoying the sunshine, pick one of the 10 top wines below, all great value and tasted by our experts.

Each week we bring you new wines, so you can branch out from your usual choices, without breaking the bank – especially if you’re one of the wine drinkers who stick to the same wine for a decade.

Don’t forget to also look at our selection of supermarket wines.

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Premium English sparkling wine to try this summer

Thu, 17/05/2018 - 10:07

Susie Barrie MW picks out her top 15 English sparkling wines to see you through the summer...

2017 was a significant year for the UK wine industry: a million vines were planted, a new competition for its wines was launched, and the WineGB organization was formally announced.

One of the first events for the newly formed WineGB was the annual trade tasting held in April, where there was a palpable buzz of excitement in the air. There were also more wines than ever, with over 200 in 2018 compared to just 68 back in 2002.

Several of my English sparkling wine recommendations below are from this tasting, with the remainder coming from other recent tastings and vineyard visits earlier this year, when I was researching a new book. The list could have been two or even three times as long, but I’ve tried to limit myself mostly to wines from brand new projects, new cuvées from more established producers, and older wines that are at their peak of drinkability.

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Top Bordeaux dry whites from 2017

Thu, 17/05/2018 - 08:40

En primeur tastings may have shown Bordeaux 2017 to be uneven for red wines, but it's shaping up to be a five-star vintage for the region's dry whites, says Jane Anson. See her scores and tasting notes, exclusively for Decanter Premium members...

Bordeaux dry whites 2017.Top Bordeaux dry whites 2017

Bordeaux 2017 is an exceptional dry white vintage, as noted in my Bordeaux 2017 vintage overview.

You can feel hugely confident buying Pessac-Léognan and other big name whites, although sadly volumes are often way down.

All Graves whites 2017    All Pessac whites 2017     All Bordeaux Blancs 2017   Back to the Bordeaux en primeur main page


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Champagne growers hit by violent hailstorm

Thu, 17/05/2018 - 07:23

Hailstones bigger than golf balls have caused at least some damage to 500 hectares of vines in the Côte des Bar area in the south of the Champagne region, according to initial estimates.

Côte des Bar area map.

A violent hailstorm hit the Champagne region on Saturday 12 May.

Growers reported hailstones five centimetres in diameter raining down on vines in Côte des Bar, in the south-east of the Champagne region and predominantly planted with Pinot Noir. Early estimates suggested 500 hectares of vineyards were damaged.

The hail corridor extended from Les Riceys to Vitry-le-Croisé, with the village of Neuville being the most badly affected.

Hailstones hit roughly ‘20% of the Côte des Bar area’, said Bruno Duron, from the Comité de Champagne, the trade body.

‘Of the 500 hectares affected, 250 to 280 hectares are located on the Riceys terroir,’ he told

‘We had already had an episode [of hail] with lots of wind on 29 April, but this one has had a bigger impact.’

Hail fell on growing vines. ‘The Pinot vines were at seven to eight leaves while the Chardonnays had reached 9 to 10 leaves,’ Duron said.

However, the damage remained very localised in the context of the Côte des Bar vineyard area. ‘The Côte des Bar is 8,000 hectares (24% Champagne),’ Duron said.

But for the winegrowers affected, it was another disaster after the damaging spring frosts in 2016 and 2017.

There were concerns that some small-scale growers might no longer have individual reserves in their cellars, placing them under extra financial pressure.

Editing by Chris Mercer.

Read also: Extreme weather becoming the new normal, warns major report

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New Bordeaux 2017 releases: Talbot, Beychevelle out

Wed, 16/05/2018 - 21:17

  • Price cuts dominate early stages of Bordeaux 2017 en primeur campaign, although some frustration at a slow start.

  • Talbot, Beychevelle and Gazin drop ex-Bordeaux release price by between four and 11% versus 2016.

  • Rieussec and Suduiraut also released in Sauternes.

Château Talbot, the St-Julien fourth growth.

Château Talbot dropped its release price for its Bordeaux 2017 en primeur wine by 11% versus the 2016 release, to 37.20 euros per bottle ex-Bordeaux.

Beychevelle also released its 2017 wine on Wednesday (16 May), priced at 52.8 euros ex-Bordeaux and down by nearly 7% on the 2016 release price.

There has been a general movement towards price cuts on 2017 primeur releases so far, although few have ventured as far as the widely praised Château Palmer, one of the earliest out of the blocks and down by 20% on last year’s release.

A number of UK merchants have also been frustrated at the relatively slow start to this year’s campaign.

Liv-ex cited Beychevelle 2017 as being offered by UK merchants at £650 per 12-bottle case, making it the St-Julien estate’s cheapest grand vin on the market, in sterling currency terms.

This ‘could make today’s offer attractive, especially for buyers in Asia where the wine is widely followed,’ said Liv-ex analysts.

Wine Lister said Beychevelle’s release was ‘characteristically well-judged’.

Its analysis showed that the estate was one of the top performers in terms of price appreciation post-en primeur release between 2009 and 2016.

Decanter’s Jane Anson said that Beychevelle 2017 was ‘certainly a wine to recommend’ from an uneven vintage, even if it lacked the full expression of the exceptional 2016. She gave the wine 92 points.

Talbot’s 2017 release price pitched the wine as slightly cheaper than the current market price for the 2016 in sterling terms, according to Liv-ex.

The estate is known as a popular seller and came sixth when Wine Lister asked its founding members to name which wines sell most consistently year-on-year.

But, Liv-ex analysts questioned whether the 2017 release price would prove tempting enough.

Jane Anson praised the ‘great balance’ of the 2017, rating it 89 points, but she rated the 2016 wine at 94 points in a recent vertical tasting.

Other releases this week have included Marquis de Terme at 30 euros per bottle ex-Bordeaux, down 4% on the 2016 release price and following an emerging trend among several estates to price the 2017 vintage between their 2014 and 2015 wines.

Gazin was one of the estates that kick-started this week’s leg of the campaign, releasing on Monday 14 May at 57.6 euros per bottle ex-Bordeaux, also a 4% drop on the 2016 release price. In sterling terms, Gazin 2017 was more expensive than the most recent market price for every vintage since 2010, according to Liv-ex.

Rieussec and Suduiraut in Sauternes have also released their 2017 wines this week, at 42 euros and 45.6 euros per bottle ex-Bordeaux respectively – both equal to the 2016 release price.

Update 11 May

Lafleur has seen demand outstrip supply following its 2017 en primeur release. Decanter’s Jane Anson said the wine was one of the triumphs of the Right Bank after it managed to avoid frost damage that hampered several estates in the area.

Read the full story on the Lafleur 2017 release here

Coming soon: A vertical tasting of Lafleur wines, to be published exclusively for Premium members.

Update published on 4 May

Châteaux injected some pace into the Bordeaux 2017 en primeur campaign on Thursday (3 May) with several releases hitting the market.

Many estates have increased prices over the previous three vintages and, this week, there continued to be signs that some properties were rolling some of this back for a frost-hit 2017 described as great in parts but considerably uneven.

It’s early days, but it still appears as if Palmer set the initial tone for the campaign last week by pricing its 2017 wine somewhere between the 2014 and 2015 release.

‘Palmer made the right move,’ said Gavin Smith, head of fine wine at Fine & Rare merchant, on Wednesday (2 May). ‘The price reduction judged the mood of the consumer well following two big campaigns in 2016 and 2015.’

He said that he was confident that the most highly regarded 2017 wines would sell, and that it could be an exciting campaign if others follow Palmer’s lead. But he added that several big names may have ‘missed an opportunity’ by not releasing early in a relatively quiet period.

Thursday 3 May releases 

Malartic-Lagravière 2017 red was down by 21% ex-Bordeaux, to 32.4 euros ex-Bordeaux.

For consumers, Malartic-Lagravière 2017 red was just under the current 2014 price at Millesima USA. It was offering 12 bottles of Malartic-Lagravière 2017 red – rated 93 points by Decanter’s Jane Anson – for $570 in bond with the 2014 at $576 and the 2015 at $696.

In the UK, Fine & Rare was offering the Malartic 2017 red at £395 per 12-bottle case in bond. The 2014 vintage was available for £343 per case in bond on Fine & Rare Marketplace, with the 2012 available direct from the merchant at £359 per case. The 2016 was sold out and the 2015 was available on Marketplace for £418 per case.

Search all of Jane Anson’s Bordeaux 2017 en primeur scores

Exclusive to Premium members

Langoa Barton in St-Julien released its 2017 with an ex-Bordeaux price cut of 15% versus last year, at 31 euros per bottle. Its 2015 wine was released en primeur at 32 euros ex-Bordeaux and its 2014 vintage at 29 euros.

Liv-ex said that it was being offered by UK merchants at around £390 per 12 bottles, down 7% in sterling terms versus the 2016 release.

Château Pape Clément also released its 2017 wine on Thursday (3 May), at a 7% discount to the 2016 release and at 61.2 euros per bottle ex-Bordeaux.

Liv-ex reported that Pape Clément had released around 50% less wine than last year, mainly due to frost damage.

BI Wines & Spirits was offering Pape Clément 2017 at £760 in bond for a 12-bottle case. For comparison, the 2014 and 2015 vintages on BI’s LiveTrade platform were priced at £670 and £840 in bond respectively for 12-bottle cases.

Jane Anson rated both Pape Clément and Langoa Barton 2017 at 92 points, describing the two wines as having good structure yet lacking some of the fruit concentration of 2015 and 2016.

This week has also seen a primeur campaign debut for Trotte Vieille, which saw its 2017 wine available at 60 euros ex-Bordeaux. Jane Anson rated the wine at 94 points, praising its balance, power and good ageing potential.

Berry Bros & Rudd was offering six bottles of Trotte Vieille at £369 in bond, with the 2015 vintage also available on the merchant’s BBX trading platform, in bond, for £1 more per case.

La Lagune’s 2017 release, down 14% ex-Bordeaux versus 2016 to 30.6 euros per bottle, saw it join a number of estates that have opted to price within a range roughly between the 2014 and 2015 vintages so far.

Other releases so far this week have included Marquis d’Alesme, Dauzac, Vray Croix de Gay and Cos Labory, as well as Pape Clément and Malartic-Lagravière white wines.

Ex-Bordeaux pricing data by Liv-ex and Wine Lister

Read about more releases, plus scores and an exclusive vintage report via Decanter’s Bordeaux en primeur homepage

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Domaine de Chevalier vertical: 2000 – 2017

Wed, 16/05/2018 - 11:47

Jane Anson tastes a vertical of Domaine de Chevalier wines, exclusively for Decanter Premium members.

The Bordeaux 2017 vintage was no doubt a bittersweet vintage for Domaine de Chevalier. For once, they were not alone in being affected by frost, and in many ways were far better prepared than almost any other property in the region.

Owner Olivier Bernard has long used wine machines and even helicopters in certain vintages because its location, with vines on the far west of Léognan in a single 45ha gravel, black sand and clay plot surrounded by forest gives it a very particular micro-climate where budding begins earlier than many local properties, and its swings in temperature (warm days, cold nights) often make it particularly vulnerable to low temperatures in springtime.


See Jane Anson’s overview of the Bordeaux 2017 vintage, plus all of her en primeur tasting notes


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Bordeaux makes way for Burgundy and whisky at Sotheby’s

Wed, 16/05/2018 - 08:54

Bordeaux’s share of sales has fallen to a record low at Sotheby’s as consumers, especially in Hong Kong, have switched to Burgundy and whisky, shows a new report from the auction house.

Richebourg Grand Cru in Burgundy's Côte de Nuits.

For the first time since Sotheby’s started selling wine in 1970, Bordeaux accounted for less than 50% of Sotheby’s auction and retail sales in 2017, dropping to 40% from 52% in 2016 – something the company said was ‘unthinkable’ only three years ago.

The Sotheby’s 2017 Wine Auction Report attributes Bordeaux’s fall to ‘a significant decline in Bordeaux’s share of sales at auction in Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent in London’.

‘For Sotheby’s Wine, the secondary wine market has been dominated by Bordeaux ever since we started auctions in 1970, with Bordeaux sales representing over 60% year-on-year,’ Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Wine, told

‘The dynamic growth in both value and sales of Burgundy and whisky showed that demand has broadened significantly, driven by buyers from North America and Asia.

‘We expect demand for both to remain consistently strong, and are likely to witness new benchmark prices during the rest of this year.’

Burgundy’s share of Sotheby’s sales in 2017 was 39%, up from 34%, with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti securing the leading producer spot for the fifth successive year. Its sales of $11.6m were greater than Lafite, Pétrus and Mouton-Rothschild combined.

But whisky was the biggest mover on the global auction scene, at least for Sotheby’s, where it took a 6% share of revenues in the fine wine and spirits division, up from 1% in 2016.

This increase was led by The Macallan single malt, which recorded $2.6m in sales, up 4,000% on the year and making it number seven on the top 10 producers list.

Two Macallan lots and one of Japan’s Ichiro Hanyu Card Player Series accounted for the three most lucrative auction lots of the year, led by The Macallan in Lalique Legacy Collection, an 18-bottle lot sold in April 2017 in Hong Kong for just under $1m – a new world record for a whisky lot.

The report also illustrates the continued dominance of Asian buyers, who were responsible for 58% of Sotheby’s worldwide sales in 2017, up 2% on 2016. For auctions alone, they took a 50% share of available lots, but 60% of value, including nine out of the 10 most expensive lots.

Read also: How to approach buying wine en primeur

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