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Decanter Nov

Aha! A new Decanter (www.decanter.com) hoves into view. Laden to the gunwhales with fine wine choices, it is too. All hands on deck to explain....

There's no single theme this month (although Italian red fans will mostly be a happy bunch).

The two main panel reviews are both Old World, albeit the latter with with an un-traditional bent: Alsace Grand Cru Riesling and IGT Toscana reds (pretty much = Super-Tuscans).

We have top wines from both reviews as you will find below: a 98-point (and very rare) Exceptional from Alsace and a top-top-value (~£17), Outstanding 95-pointer from Tuscany.

And there's plenty more beyond: indeed, perhaps our most exciting offerings of the month are two Chianti Rufinas on 96 and 97 points, both at sensible prices.

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Alsace Grand Cru Riesling

Panel reviews first, then. Alsace's Grand Crus cover just 4% of the 16,000 hectares of vineyards in the region. The Grand Cru designation forms its own AOC/AOP/appellation, comprising just over 50 vineyards (NB: I was aware of 51, and so says the appellation body, but the Decanter article states 55). The appellation is not without some controversy, as Jancis Robinson (at www.JancisRobinson.com) explains:

"Grand Cru: recognised as an AOC, amid some controversy, in 1975, and expanded in 1983, 1992 and 2007 to grant more than 50 individual vineyards granted superior status. The words Grand Cru are no guarantee of quality as some producers have seen Grand Cru simply as an excuse to charge more rather than as an opportunity to make seriously fine wine – although admittedly the maximum permitted yields are lower than the Alsace norm. Many of Alsace's best wines are Grands Crus, however. A few top producers such as Trimbach have Grand Cru sites but don’t refer to them on the label"....

... and as also highlighted here in a Decanter article from Andrew Jefford.

My own observations are that

  • as with any new(ish) designation system, the Grand Cru (GC) controversy is/has now much simmered down;
  • many hesitant/sceptical producers (Trimbach foremost among them) have now adopted/espoused the designation; and
  • nearly all of the regions's truly great wines (with the notable exception of Trimbach's Clos St-Hune) are now to be found under the GC banner.

That controversy may yet all kick off again, of course; there is much talk and action to institute a Premier Cru category a la Burgundy, 'twixt 'standard' Alsace AOC and Grand Cru AOC.

Alsace wine region

It doesn't look take much of at look at the map of the key GCs above (source/courtesy: Decanter) to see that, given how all-over-the-place they are, there is a huge variety of terroirs in play there. Given the very mixed (and fascinating) geological history of Alsace (see here), it's way more varied still. And this panel is of Riesling, of course, which the article states as being the finest terroir-expressing of all grapes (personally, I'd dispute that), so there are 'many different Rieslings' on offer here. Couple that with this being a multi-vintage review, and that myriad is more myriad still.

Let us be clear: there are some amazing wines, producers and vintages in the mix here. Value is an interesting question. Most of the wines here are in the bracket £35-£65. These are not wines at the Golden Price of £15 a bottle that Exel customers much adore. But they are of a quality akin to very top Bordeaux and Burgundy which sell for many times these prices. Value or not? I'll leave that to you.

77 wines were tested: one was rated Exceptional (98+ points), 4 were Outstanding (95+ points) and 34 were Highly Recommended (90+ points).

We are delighted to offer the clear king (or queen, as you prefer) of the panel, being one of the very few Exceptionals featured in the Decanter panels this year.

It is from Domaine Weinbach, based in Kaysersberg, and from their holding of the Schlossberg Grand CruSchlossberg is #12 on the map above, mid-region, the largest GC and, in itself, a bundle of vineyards in one. It is the 2019 vintage: the panel said of this vintage, "The 2019s typically displayed a combination of perfume and richness offset by thrilling acidities; the result of the hot, dry year where everything was concentrated, both the fruit and the acids; the wines have a delicious energy".

Weinbach are one of the greats and originals of Alsace (see our product pages - and here - for more details), and all of their wines are wonderful. The trio of the Decanter panel were in no doubt as to how much they liked this:

I very much agree. It really is very close to perfect. If you have a few moments, I describe why in a video tasting. Balance - of fruit, acidity, sugar, tension, plushness - is everything in any exceptional wine, and the Schlossberg 2019 hits the spot absolutely. The fruit is just ripe enough; it's on the divide, I would argue, between citrus fruit and stone fruit (the classic tones of Alsace-richness and warmth), but retaining a tautness that makes it genuinely thrilling.

Of particular note, I was very much expecting this to be a wine that one would not dream of drinking yet. That is (in my head): "two years from vintage in an Alsace GC Riesling... drink it now? Never!".

I'd be wrong to claim or think that. Personally, being a kerosene-head of the Riesling world, I would wait a few years for that aspect to develop, but there is more than enough depth, complexity and richness in this wine to enjoy it now. I write this not to promote early drinking and greater sales. Rather, this wine has proved to me what I have heard said of great, good-vintage Alsace Riesling (by its better producers) many times: you can drink it anytime - it has great dimensions at any age.

It is £50+ a bottle, however. Some Exel customers will want to try it but not fancy that price. For them, we offer Weinbach's Cuvee Theo Riesling from the year before (2018), which, at £24.95, is half the cost but is way (way) more than half the wine. It is plusher and richer, more gold in the glass and quite a bit petrol/kerosene-ier. It is more-stone-fruits-than-citric-fruits, and has a slightly less heady acidity. It is quite glorious and definitely drinking now. I could drink this all day (and, in a somewhat unhealthy way, have done just that writing these paragraphs). All this also features in the video tasting.

Of course, it is not a 98-pointer ... but it is a 93-point Decanter wine (in 2021) and a Jancis-rated (herself) 17-pointer to boot. I/we seriously recommend this.

Stock status: both wines are on their way to us, are in the UK, and will be with us by Friday 8th October.

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IGT Toscana reds

We have a late-in-the-date entrant - at a great price - in the other panel tasting of IGT Tuscan reds.

Some will be very familar with the story of the category. Tuscany has the perfect climate and soils for so many grapes and wines. Thing is, under the old DOC rulings (as were), it was Sangiovese or Bust. If you weren't some part of Chianti (which itself had some very iffy rules about what you actually could throw in with Sangiovese), you were dropped into the lowest of all of Italy's red classifications, Vina di Tavola. We had the laughable situation where some of Italy's - and the world's - finest wines - Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Tignanello - were in the same denomination as the very lowest of Italy's red table wines (and, believe me, that is a low bar indeed).

Times and rules have luckily progressed. The hotbed of Super-Tuscans - Bolgheri and thereabouts - has/have its/their own categories. As Decanter put it, for wider IGT Toscana (the category of this review): "The creation of the denomination was an attempt to rectify this situation and allowed winemakers more scope to experiment. Nowadays the denomination can encompass anything from a 100% Sangiovese to a classic Bordeaux blend, or even a 100% Syrah or Montepulciano. The wines can come from anywhere in Tuscany".

There is another truth (almost) universally acknowledged about Super-Tuscans: they are not cheap. Some part is down to quality of winemaking and low yields, but some part is simple commerciality. Finding good, affordable Super-Tuscans (to use the term broadly) is not easy. But find one, and they can be brilliant.

This panel test is thus useful. It's a review of many vintages and areas within Tuscany. The wines reviewed vary from

  • 100% Sangiovese
  • through those that are mainly Sangiovese (often with Bordeaux varieties in play)
  • to pure Bordeaux blends (no Sangiovese)
  • to 100% wines of almost anything red.

So, this is not - at all - a homogeneous category separated only by a few slight nuances of terroir (as, say, a review of Nuits-St-Georges might be). Ther's no 100% Pinot or 100% Malbec here, but there is almost everything else.

74 wines went under the tasting microscope. It was a very good review; one judge commented, "The overall quality of the tasting was stunning, with some amazing wines". Six wines emerged as Outstanding with 95 points or more. Five of them alas price at above £40/btl (and average £50). We offer the other one, and this - the Il Burchino 2014 from Tenuta di Burchino (part of the Castellani empire) - is it:

We think we're (actually or almost) the only outlet with it. The named outlet in the review are the importer; they no longer sell direct and we obtain it from them.

It's an enigmatic blend, as we reveal in our video tasting (which combines with one for the Chiantis below; you can hop straight to the Burchino here). Put your mind and taste buds into it, and you can find all three varieties here. It is unmistakably Italian and Sangiovese: tannins, acidity, sour cherries and a lovely rich nose. There's some blackness, blackberry and extra-deep acidity there - that's the Cab Sauv talking. And it's all surprisingly rounded, 'smooth' and soft: behold the Merlot. This was put in front of friends at dinner last night; these are friends who are into 'easier' wines and they settled into it without wincing or difficulty.

It is no super-heavy, deep, inky Bordeaux blend, let's be clear - the Sangiovese prevents that - but it is a carefully constructed blend at an almost-daft price, which conveniently has seven softening, melding years on the clock to boot. This is one not to miss.

Stock status: (as at Saturday 2nd October, 3:30pm). Initial stocks are now all sold. We have some ~50 cases arriving in the last few days of October/first week of November. Orders now placed will be met with this arriving stock. Sorry: sometimes stock cannot be made to move as fast as the news of Decanter high-scorers!

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Chianti Rùfina

People who read these blog-articles will know that I bang on about Chianti. It is my favourite red wine, bar none. I get very - very - annoyed with anyone who mentions fava beans and/or makes the accompanying sloppy (and now-traditional) slurping/sucking noises. People who know Chianti know that it's way better wine than the flabby old Amarone that Thomas Harris actually mentions in the book (but which the screenwriters dumped as they felt film audiences needed to hear of a better-known wine. Personally, I'm with the screen team: I'd match liver with Chianti every time, in preference to Amarone. But I digress and have indeed fallen into my own pet hate).

The article in Decanter is one by Italian specialist, Monty Waldin. It focusses not on the much-hallowed turf of Chianti Classico (think: black rooster logo, Fontodi etc) but on Chianti Rùfina, away to the north-west of both the Classico zone and the city of Florence. As here, in fact:

 map source: Decanter (www.decanter.com), November 2021 edition

Truth be told, I know far less of Chianti Rùfina. I so love Classico that I have not much reached the wider reaches of Chianti. Here's what I know or have re-gleaned in the last few hours:

  • Rùfina is one - and the smallest - of the seven sub-zones - and a DOCG in its own right - that make up the wider Chianti DOCG.
  • Classico, remember, is not one of those seven. It broke free of wider Chianti many years ago.
  • Don't ask me to name the other six (I can name Frankie Dettori's 7 Ascot 1996 winners, but not all these sub-zones).
  • Rùfina really is small: 750 hectares, making it barely 10% the size of Classico and just 4% of the Chianti DOCG.
  • There are only ~20 producers in Rùfina ...
  • ... but their wines are the most highly regarded outside Classico, seen as better than those of the other sub-zones, and many vie for the tags of Finest Chianti of All.
  • Broadly speaking - I emphasise that caveat - Rùfina differentiates itself from Classico (and wider Chianti) by being cooler, mainly through altitude...
  • ... making Rùfina’s wines typically lighter, crunchier, tighter and redder - in general - than the fare of Classico.
  • But I advise caution with those generalisations - there are heavier, darker Rùfinas to be found and lighter, redder Classicos. Vintage and site-specificity are key!
  • Good Chianti Rùfina is outstanding value, given its slightly lower fame, and is very cellar-able.

Monty winds up his article with this key point: "What I like about Rùfina’s idea is that growers are free to identify their best Sangiovese vineyard site, one per producer, rather than having a top-down system whereby special interests dictate which vineyards can or cannot join the club. The growers know where their best Sangiovese grapes come from. They are prepared to leave it up to you to see if you agree with their terroir-driven choices".

He selects six top-flight Rùfinas, all of which score 95 points or more. We offer two of them, at 97 and 96 points apiece. They are both Riservas, with the extra dimension that this brings to the wine, and both are from great vintages and at good-value prices.  They are from two of the DOCG's stalwarts, being Selvapiana...

and Nipozzano...


We've not tasted the Selvapiana. That's an unusual thing for us, but this is real end-of-vintage stuff, and we want every bottle to be available to you. There are only 60 bottles available, in stock, here now. You may want to be fairly quick here.

As for the Nipozzano - no such panic-buying is required.  There are ~200 bottles available, here Oct 7th. We have tasted it; it's in our video tasting here. It's beautifully scented, and definitely at the lighter end of the Chianti spectrum. It may not be those who like the very dark end of Chianti (examples of which: the Bibbiano Gran Selezione 2016 or Cacchiano Riserva 2015 we recently offered). Acidity is zingy and prevalent, and this certainly creates a savoury feel (as Decanter point out). I pick up almost no oak; this is all about fruit purity, acidity and tannins. It's great with food now (tested with spicy mushroom pasta last night) but, as the review says, there are definite benefits to allowing this one to develop for just a year or two more (with a huge horizon beyond). Drunk now, it needs a little time opened before drinking. As <£20 cellar-able Italian options go, this is one to snap up.

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Elsewhere...

Elsewhere this month, there's an article on Affordable Burgundy. Just what is (and is not) 'affordable' is a matter of some debate (esp with my Dad). In the article generally, are all around the £20 mark, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, none are true super-scorers; all around the 90 to 93 point mark. Quite a few are from vintages that have still to arrive (apols: we're listed in the magazine for three wines we cannot yet obtain). We offer two 2019s, being a red and a white: a 93-point Mercurey from Theulot Juillot and a 92-point Montagny from Berthenet (the latter is particularly fine value).

A recap of DWWA21 winners flushes the Il Poggione Brunello 2016 out again. We really only have a few bottles left and this is also now all gone at the importer. We can recommend the excellent Campogiovanni from this excellent vintage and at almost the same (actually a better) price.

There is a Spanish special supplement with this edition. In it...

  • Txakoli from Northern Spain comes in for a good scrutinise: Hiruzta's Berezia scores well.
  • Galicia's top reds get a good mention. Almost all are very affordable. The DWWA21 smash Matilda is there (95 points here, from Sarah Jane Evans), as is Domino do Bibei's Lalama (94 points).
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Bodegas Olarra, Cerro Anon Rioja Gran Reserva 2015 (1x75cl)

** ARRIVING AROUND 16th DECEMBER **

** THIS IS THE NEW VINTAGE OF OUR TOP-SELLING, EVER-POPULAR RIOJA. THE 2011 IS NOW AT AN END. **

** UNDER RIOJA RULES, THIS NEW VINTAGE HAS ONLY JUST BEEN RELEASED, LEFT THE PRODUCER ON 22nd OCTOBER AND IS DUE WITH US AROUND 16th DECEMBER. ** 

** WE'VE NOW HAD A CHANCE TO TRY THE NEW VINTAGE, ARE MUCH IMPRESSED AND YOU CAN READ/SEE BELOW HOW IT COMPARES. **

** ARRIVING AROUND 16th DECEMBER **

£15.50
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