Wines of 2012

Now that 2012 has passed, and before 2013 gets off to a working start, it’s a good time to look back on a year full of enjoyable wine experiences and where I was lucky enough to taste some superb wines – in fact 2012 is the first year I can definitely say to myself that I’ve tasted some bona fide 5 star (19-20, 95+ pts) wines. Therefore, in keeping with the tradition of making “Best of Year” lists, I’ve put together my best wines of 2012 and added a few memories along the way.

In the North East we’ve had the usual spread of major events (Eat Festival, Corbridge Fair, Sage Food & Wine) and I’ve attended tastings with Bin 21, Richard Granger, Carruthers & Kent and PortoVino. Along with the monthly NEWTS meetings, where a good proportion of the wines are locally sourced, then I’ve managed to try at least some of the wines from all of the main local importers and retailers, however, 2012 also was a good year for trying wines not available in the region. A summer holiday to Bergerac and Bordeaux played its part and I’ve had a couple of wines from my own “cellar” (kitchen cupboard!) which have impressed, but the biggest contribution was a regular private tasting group that I’ve been going to over the year where everyone brings a bottle of something “special” to share. It’s hard to pick out the best one of these so far, although the vertical tasting of St. Hallet Old Block Shiraz going back to the 1992 vintage was a joy.

It was these latter wines, mostly unavailable locally, that go into my first list.

D'YquemTop 10 wines of the 2012: This list is the crème de la crème that I’ve tasted over the year, 10 sublime wines that just delighted the palate, including some that will never be tasted again.

  1. Château d’Yquem 2006 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France (tasted at the Château, July 2012).
    The ultimate experience of my Bergerac and Bordeaux holiday in July, a visit to Château d’Yquem and a tasting of their 2006 vintage.
    The colour was rich and radiant with a golden sheen, the honeycomb-acid nose had a sweet savouriness to it. There was a silken texture, some caramel and a gentle tang of acidity to balance and layered flavours across the palate – honey for certain.
    Orion 95The length was superb, an endless finish, coating the mouth with flavours and textures that you wanted to continue forever.
  2. Orion 1995, California, USA (tasted August 2012).
    Brought by a friend this wine is a field blend where even the winemaker, Sean Thackry, isn’t completely sure what the grapes are (probably mostly Syrah) -for an insight into the eccentric Thackry check out this excellent You Tube Video on him.
    The wine showed no signs of age in the glass and had a dense, smoky nose. On the palate it was a mix of sweet, juicy, savoury & above all tasty – whatever you’re looking for in a wine, it was there.
    Very old PortA subtle long finish with a perfect nose, perfect tannins, perfect acidity, perfect fruit and a perfect finish.
  3. Sandeman 1927 Vintage Port, Portugal (tasted December 2012).
    Brought by a friend 1927 is regarded as one of the best ever vintages for Port, so I’m just glad I tasted some before it’s all gone – I doubt there will be too many bottles of this anywhere else in the world.
    Amber brown in colour the nose is of raisins with an alcoholic tickle and a little coffee. Rich and smooth on the palate, velvety smooth – almost too smooth at the front – with almonds on a long finish.
  4. Château Canon le Gaffeliere 1998 St. Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux France (tasted December 2012).
    Brought by a friend and not a great right-bank year, but there’s always an exception or two!
    The nose was perfect, a touch of menthol, light herbs and a good dollop of fruit. Smooth and minty at the front, rich on the mid-palate, just a delicious wine with a little spicy-wood, just a touch austere on the finish.  
  5. Dows 1963 Vintage Port (tasted January 2012).
    Part of the all Port NEWTS tasting and an excellent finish to the evening.
    Still plenty of colour showing with a violet and menthol nose. This has a velvet texture and extremely subtle, almost fragile flavours. Nectar, and no heat throughout.
  6.  Tim Adams 2006 The Aberfeldy Shiraz, Clare Valley, South Australia (tasted March 2012).
    Part of the NEWTS AGM meeting brought along by Chairman Geoff Cullen. Tim Adams wines are available from Tesco in store or through their on-line wine club.
    A light nose, lifting with menthol & spice. Cool on the palate, satisfying with gentle acidity – clean but not harsh. Textured tannins with some cocoa, drinking perfectly – a true vin de contemplation, everything is in balance, a precise, silky, seductive wine.
  7. Wynns 1998 John Riddoch Coonawarra Cabernet, South Australia (tasted June 2012).
    Part of the NEWTS tasting from Greig Wilson of Majestic Wines and sourced through their Fine Wine arm, Lay & Wheeler.
    What a nose! Smoke and graphite, mellow fruit and mint with the promise of aged flavours. In the glass this is as dark as night and the taste is wonderful; Still sweet fruit, suggesting a “fruit-bomb” past that’s come together, with perfect sourness on the edges. Some tar and liquorice with fine tannins adding structure to the fruit – a delightful wine.
  8. Sybille Kuntz 2005 Gold Quadrat Riesling Trocken, Mosel, Germany  (tasted June 2012).
    Bought by me in 2008 in Germany this premium Riesling (Spätlese style, 40-60year old organic vines) needed age and 2012 was the earliest I’d planned for this – it was well worth the wait!
    Fresh Riesling nose with layers of aroma. Good acidity and an unctuous yet fresh texture with apple-melon sweetness on the taste. An almost tannic dryness to the structure/texture.
  9. Font Juvenal 2003 Cabardès, Languedoc, France (tasted September 2012).
    Bought by a friend from the winery in France. Cabardès is unique for a French AOC in requiring a blend of both Atlantic and Mediterranean grape varieties.
    Fresh with a hint of garrigue, a stunning wine with chocolate/coffee and mint.
  10. Château Musar 2002, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (tasted January 2012).
    Bought from Waitrose back in 2010 for £18 and opened at home for some self-indulgent drinking. Richard Granger still has back vintages of Musar available.
    Initially poured without decanting there was a touch of spritz in this which didn’t sit well with the rest of the flavours & textures – however after a few minutes this settled down and started to develop. A warm, smoky nose with a touch of barnyard mixed in among the alcoholic spice. Delightfully smooth and warm in the mouth this has integrated flavours and chalky dry tannins, there’s chocolate mixed in and a long, but subtle, earthy finish. Deliciously textured this wine is wonderful with a quality approaching that of the 1999.

3 French, 2 Australians, 2 Portuguese, 1 German, 1 American and a Lebanese is the type of spread I like to see when it comes to good wine, no one region can lay claim to making superb wine when it comes to individual bottles.

Along with tasting some truly sublime wines in 2012 my continuing wine journey also included meeting some renowned people in the industry (not including the winemakers met on holiday). The EAT Newcastle & Gateshead Wine Fair in July has the Wines of Lebanon Masterclass with Tim Atkin MW presenting, a journalist and critic I’ve long held in respect. Then, a few weeks later, the Northumbria Food and Wine Festival had another Master of Wine, Sarah Abbott, and MW student Karen Hardwick both giving presentations. My self-education continued at NEWTS when I put together a Bordeaux tasting for the members and was in the audience, glasses at the ready, for the other great tastings we had over the year, including the “Night of the Premier Crus” Burgundy tasting in September.

So to my second list, a top 10 of wines which includes the wines from local retailers that I’ve enjoyed most over the year and that may still be available for purchase (if they haven’t moved onto the next vintage by now).

SchoepferTop 10 local wines: The Northumbria Food & Wine Fair and Bin 21’s April tasting contribute 2 each to the list, with 4 NEWTS meetings, the EAT Fair and C&K’s November tasting providing the rest.

  1. Domaine Michel Schoepfer 2006 Pinot Gris, Alsace, France (£9.30. Dennhöfer Wines, tasted August 2012).
    One of the stars of the Corbridge Wine Festival this year, and top of the list due to its superb value for money.
    This had a delicate floral nose and a golden colour. Richly textured, with a creaminess to it. There was some gentle bitterness and toasty caramel on the finish.
  2. Alain Paret 2010 Viognier, Rhône, France  (£11.99. Carruthers & Kent, tasted July 2012).
    Was in a different league to other wines in the EAT Fair in July, with precise, clean, focussed flavours – a mini-Condrieu without the price-tag.
  3. Château Ka Source Blanche 2011, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (£10.99. Carruthers & Kent, tasted August 2012).
    Delightfully weird white wine of the Corbridge Wine Festival, a blend of Muscat, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc,
    Sauvignon dominates on the nose. Good acidity, balanced, chewy flavours with a chaotic melange of tastes – including fudge! – and a toasty finish.
  4. Piano del Cerro 2008 Aglianico Reserva, Basilicata, Italy (£21.99. Carruthers & Kent, tasted November 2012).
    The find of Carruthers and Kent’s November Tasting, a powerful southern Italian red from Liberty.
    Rich nose with some sweet oak. Young fruit with raw tannins but beautiful full flavour.
  5. Companhia das Quintas 2009 Morgado Santa Catherina, Bucelas, Portugal (£16-£19. Bin21/PortoVino, tasted April 2012).
    Made from Portugal’s Arinot grape and the best white (ahead of the Marsannay below) from Bin 21’s Hexham tasting in April.
    Struggles on the nose but delivered on the palate with a rich complexity and a toasty/nutty finish.
  6. Diemersdal 2009 Private Collection, Durbanville, South Africa (£16. Bin21, tasted July 2012). Bin 21 again, this time from Paddy Eyre’s in-absentia presentation to the NEWTS in July.
    A lovely Bordeaux blend with a lifted, fragrant nose of coffee, blackcurrant and chocolate. Big on flavour as well, well balanced and complex with coffee and hazelnuts and a caramel finish. Although drinking well now the acidity is a touch overpowering but give it 4-7 years.
  7. Masi Agricola 2007 Costasera Amarone, Veneto, Italy (£30. Majestic, tasted May 2012).
    A wood-aged Appassimento wine presented as part of an Italian themed NEWTS tasting.
    Tar, figs, Madeira raisins and Dijon Mustard on the nose. Velvety smooth with spicy complexity and port-type texture.
  8. Louis Jadot 2009 Marsannay Blanc, Burgundy, France (approx £18. Bin21, tasted April 2012).
    A damn fine white Burgundy just pipped for wine of the night at Bin 21’s Hexham tasting by the Morgado Santa Catherina above.
    Superb minerality and a toasty finish.
  9. Au Bon Climat 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, California, USA (£23. Richard Granger, tasted November 2012).
    Presented by Alastair Stewart of Richard Granger wines at his NEWTS Pinot Noir tasting, a delicious introduction to very good Pinot Noir.
    A fresh, herb nose with undercurrents of chocolate and mulch. Savoury red fruit, soft at the front of the palate with good acid integration and light, dry tannins.  Subtle flavours on the mid-palate drop off into an uncomplicated finish.
  10. D’Arenberg 2008 Dead Arm Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia (£27. Majestic, tasted June 2012).
    Part of Greig Wilson’s Majestic Australia NEWTS tasting.
    Fresh, peppery nose with a gamey-sourness. An edgy graphite and meaty palate, very intense mouthfeel, lively, suggesting it’s still in an exuberant youthful phase and could probably do with another 2-3 years.

Pinot NoirWith Bin21 and Carruthers & Kent attending all the major festivals and also hosting their own tastings it’s no surprise they have the lion’s share of bottles, but a healthy spread of 3 French, 2 Italian and 1 bottle each from Lebanon, Portugal, South Africa, USA and Australia from 6 of our local wine providers is another good mix and match of styles and sources.

After 2012 I’m starting to feel that I’m moving out of my wine adolescence into some sort of adulthood, a confidence in my knowledge and palate where I can really start to appreciate what the year had to offer. Being part of the North East Wine Tasting Society has helped nurture this development and I’m glad I was able to give something back by setting up and maintaining the NEWTS web-site which will keep me busy for the foreseeable future as I try and make it a useful resource for members and visitors alike. Of course it wasn’t all good times, notably the hard drive failure in October which led to the loss of so much information I’d been working on over the last couple of years, some of it unrecoverable (I’m only just back to a point where I have a complete list of my own wines at home again). I also regret the lack of my own blog posts, especially the failure to contribute even one article to Reign of Terroir in 2012 (which, coupled with Ken Payton’s rekindled filmmaking career, means that Blog is in limbo at the moment).

Nevertheless 2012 will leave me with mainly happy memories, a wealth of notes and information and unique experiences. In the words of Old Blue Eyes, “from the brim to the dregs, it poured sweet and clear, it was a very good year”.


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