wine

Once & Future Wines with Joel Peterson

Joel Peterson is known affectionately in the wine world as ‘The Godfather of Zin’. He’s the man who gave Zinfandel its iconic status in the US, having co-founded Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma back in 1976. It was from here that the expression ‘no wimpy wines’ was born and Peterson became the poster man for rich, concentrated, figgy Zinfandel wines that packed a huge, alcoholic, tooth-staining punch.

Fast forward to now however, and Peterson’s focus has shifted. He sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2018 and has gone back to his roots, literally, to embark on a much smaller project where we gets to make tiny quantities of fine wine from vines that are often over 100 years old. Gone are the jammy, powerhouse wines made in huge quantities. Say hello to concentrated, yet fresh, lean and perfumed wines where often, only a couple of hundred cases of each are made. This new project is called Once & Future.

“I never want to produce more wine than I can physically make myself,” he tells us at a recent tasting of wines from the just-released 2017 vintage. “Once & Future allows me to get back to what I always wanted Ravenswood to be: a small project with old vines and a keen sense of place.”

Joel looks for forgotten vineyards with old vines with grapes that should have had more of a legacy than the ‘blight’, as he calls it, of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. From the sandy soils of Oakley Vineyard where 117 year old Mataro (Mourvedre) vines stands on their own roots to 129 year old Zinfandel vines in the famous Tuscan Red Hills Series soils, these Once & Future wines, while a new project for Joel, showcase a real snapshot of Californian viticultural history.

The Once & Future Wine Range

We taste through the range of six wines and it becomes apparent immediately that this is not Ravenswood mark two; these are wines in a totally different league. Grapes that traditionally have made juicy, boozy, inky fruit bombs are graceful, light on their feet and silky, mineral smooth. All are incredibly bright, supple and fresh. Still so young, but incredibly drinkable, it will be exciting to see what happens to this with a few more years of bottle age.

On the table

Coming soon to Hedonism Wines and Harrods.

2017 Once & Future Oakley Road Vineyard Mataro from Contra Costa County. RRP £56

2017 Once & Future Oakley Road Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County. RRP £48

2017 Once & Future Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley. RRP £48

2017 Once & Future Teldeschi “Frank’s Block” Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. RRP £48

2017 Once & Future Sangiacomo Vineyard Merlot from Carneros. RRP £56

2017 Once & Future Palisades Petite Sirah from Napa Valley. RRP £56

By Helena Nicklin

Affordable, Brilliant Bordeaux

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When Bordeaux is mentioned in conversation about wine, the striking price may be the first thought of many, closely chased by how lovely to drink those wines will be, but not really an opportunity for everyday drinking. On the whole, people also think of red wine when they think of Bordeaux, and maybe Sauternes, and certainly this latter would be expensive.

This is far from the reality. Outside the traditionally expensive appellations there is a plethora of wines – red, white and even sparkling – that are not expensive and can be found readily in our shops and on line. The marvellous thing about these wines is that, as well as being very affordable, they represent fabulous value for money, giving great quality and are a pleasure to drink.

These wines don’t always stick to the well-known blends of the left and right banks. Malbec and Carménère can more frequently be found and in white wines, we may see Sauvignon Gris as well as the traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Unlike many of the classed growth wines, that need a good few years to mature before the tannins calm down or the flavours come through a wall of acidity, these more affordable wines are ready to drink from their release and will last well, if stored properly.

Here are a few of my recent favourites white wines; they would be perfect all year around, not just for summer drinking:

Calvet Crémant 2014, Bordeaux £12.49 Ocado

 Sparkling doesn’t have to be Champagne, Prosecco or, dare I say it, English. There are many sparkling wines made all over France in the form of Crémant, including Bordeaux. This one from Calvet is light and bright with lots of orchard fruits with touches of honey and lemon zest. Perfect not only for summer but as an all-round sparkling wine at under thirteen pounds.

Châteaux de Cérons Blanc, Graves 2015 £18.95 Lea and Sandeman

 This is the most expensive of the whites I have tried recently, but still represents fabulous value and is still much less expensive than the classed growth white wines. With aromas of honey and honeysuckle, white flowers mixed with fresh pears and a touch of apricot, this is a wine to have with food. It is mostly Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc but has 10% Sauvignon Gris which adds to the complexity and brings the other two varieties into balance.

Châteaux Sainte-Marie 2017 Entre-deux-Mers £10.95 Great Western Wine

 This wine is very pale in colour, and very clean on the palate. Its subtle aromas include pears and apricot. There is a small amount (8%) of Muscadet included in the blend with the remainder being 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 22% Semillon. It has refreshing flavours and mouth feel without the acidity being too high in any way. A great value white Bordeaux that will mix with most foods.

Châteaux Le Coin 2015 £10.99 Laithwaites

 An unusual white for Bordeaux compromised of 100% Sauvignon Gris. It is full bodied and certainly a wine that matches well with most foods. I tried it with a rich smoked salmon and it worked beautifully, but I would imagine it would also go really well with a roast chicken. The texture is creamy in the mouth and very satisfying. The flavours are expansive and include lots of lemon as well as lychee, pears and touches of honey. An absolute bargain of which I’ll be drinking more in the future.

There are also some fabulous value red wines. Here are a few that will satisfy a regular red Bordeaux drinker, but not destroy their wallet. All have good density and concentration of fruit with balanced acidity and a juicy mouth feel.

For utmost value versus flavour, I would choose these reds:

Definition Medoc Claret from Majestic at £11.99.

This wine has a rich aroma and balanced palate. A little more rustic than some of the others, but I think that stylistic quality gives the wine plenty of interest, and certainly doesn’t let you down on flavour.

Three others I recently thought were particularly good value were these:

Château Blaignan 2012 £10.88 at Marks and Spencer

Château de Colombe Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 £13.99 from Laithwaites

Château Lauriol 2014 Francs Côtes de Bordeaux £13.95 Lea and Sandeman.

­By Colin Hampden-White

 

Sassicaia: The first Super Tuscan

Running parallel to the Tuscan coast in the Maremma and beginning just below Livorno, you’ll find Bolgheri D.O.C: one of the newest - and arguably most exciting - appellations in the whole of Italy. Though formed as recently as 1994, Bolgheri D.O.C has already achieve legendary status in the world of fine wine and it’s all because of one curious, fearless man and a particular wine he created that broke all the rules: Sassicaia.

A love story that started it all

The story truly began after World War One, when Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, a Piedmontese agronomist who’d fought as part of the cavalry, enrolled in the faculty of Agriculture in Pisa. He brought with him to Tuscany his beloved horse and it was through his involvement with the local thoroughbred community that he met Clarice della Gherardesca, whom he married in 1930. The two moved to Rome to breed race horses, but returned to her home town of Bolgheri after the second World War. Mario busied himself helping to reorganise the property his wife had inherited, which had become neglected during the war. The name of the property was Tenuta San Guido.

From grain to grapes

As an agronomist, Mario Incisa helped the property thrive with fruit, vegetables and other agricultural products including incredible tulips that even turned the heads of the Dutch. Eventually, it was the turn of grapes. Now, growing up in a noble family, Mario Incisa had tasted a lot of wine from Bordeaux, which he loved. It was therefore only a matter of time before he turned his attentions to winemaking. Wine was already being made in the region with the local Sangiovese grapes, mostly down in the drained marshlands by the sea, but it wasn’t producing fine quality or enough quantity - a key factor in production at the time. This was not the wine Mario Incisa wanted to make; he wanted to create a fine Bordeaux - only at home, in Tuscany and to hell with what teh rules said in the D.O.C. wine guidelines for the area. He set about studying what made the wines of Bordeaux so good. Was it the grapes? The soil? The climate? Or was it something else entirely? So, off he went to stay with family friends at Mouton Rothschild (as you do when you’re a nobleman) to find his magic formula.

Friends in high places

Back in Italy after studying Bordeaux in depth, he realised that the position of his vineyards needed to be more inland, slightly higher up and on stony soil, like much of the left bank of Bordeaux. He found the perfect spot in the hills of Castiglioncello di Bolgheri: a family lookout, surrounded by forest and with a stunning view over area. He planted his first vines here at 400m above sea level, facing east and 15km away from the sandy soils by the Tyrrhenian sea. More interested in creating his own ‘Bordeaux’ than playing by the rules, Mario Incisa planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and named his vineyard ‘Sassicaia’, meaning ‘area of many stones’.

Kick-starting the Italian wine renaissance

The first vintage of Sassicaia was officially bottled in 1945, but it was not much like how it tastes today. Mario Incisa experimented for a few more years before deciding he needed help from a proper oenologist, so he looked to their cousins, the Antinori family, and spoke to their oenologist Giacomo Tachis. Together, Mario Incisa and Giacomo agreed they should make fine wines from Bordelais red grapes on this terroir and Giacomo helped to introduce modern processes he’d learned on Bordeaux to fine tune the winemaking. The rest happened impressively quickly. 1968 was Giacomo’s first vintage - and Sassicaia’s first commercial vintage - was 1968. Ten years later, Decanter Magazine held a blind tasting competition for ‘Great Clarets’ where the 1972 Sassicaia beat 33 wines from 11 countries to win its first international award. Heads were starting to turn towards this ‘table wine’ from Tuscany. Sassicaia’s fate was sealed with the 1985 vintage (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc), thanks to a stunning 100 point review from Robert Parker, who said of the wine that it frequently reminded him of a 1986 Mouton Rothschild, of all wines. Giacomo continued to work with Sassicaia, completing his final vintage in 2007. He died in 2016 and will forever be known as the man who kick started the Italian wine renaissance. Bolgheri got its own DOC status in 1983 but more recently in 2013, Sassicaia was awarded its own: DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia.

Tenuta San Guido and Sassicaia today

Today, Tenuta San Guido is run by Mario’s son, Marchese Nicoló Incisa della Rocchetta. Sassicaia is still their flagship wine, but the family wanted to produce something to that could be drunk while they waited for it to mature. Two more wines were born: Le Difese and Guidalberto.

WINES

Le Difese

‘Le difese’ are the tusks of the wild boar. This wine is their entry level label, made for immediate drinking within two or three years. The 2016 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese) is very red and black fruit forward, with lots of cassis and just enough structure and freshness to make this over deliver for the price.

£19.50 from Armit Wines

Guidalberto

Named after the Clarice’s father, Guidalberto was produced after the amazing 1985 vintage to cover market demand. Not a second wine, Guidalberto has its own identity and style, using some Merlot in the blend. The 2016 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon 40% Merlot) has a darker, blue black colour with sweet, cinnamon oak on the nose and tightly woven bramble fruit on the palate, with delicate tannins.

Find the 2015 at Hedonism wines for £29.90

Sassicaia

We tasted the 2015 vintage (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc), which had an intense, cedar and spice nose with generous blackcurrant and bramble fruit on the palate. While this wine is so you, it has an incredible drinkability already thank to is cool minearlity and super fine tannic structure.

£148.60 from Armit Wines

By Helena Nicklin

Originally written for Winerist Magazine in October 2018