A Snapshot of Fine Wine - From the Icon to the Wonderfully Obscure

Ben Humberstone

Posted on June 24 2021

Good Wine, Real People, Great Stories – 6 words that have been at the heart of our business for nearly 20 years. Conveying the work of some of the most passionate and dedicated growers, behind some of the world’s most exciting wines is what gets us out of bed in the morning! This applies just as equally to our Fine Wine range, where striking a fine balancing act between the iconic, classical, rising stars and wonderfully obscure keeps us very much on our toes.

 

THE ICON

Chateau Pontet-Canet - Pauillac, Bordeaux Region
Château Pontet-Canet

The world of wine is certainly full of them. With the process of winemaking reaching a ripe old age of 6000, it is only natural that certain estates have been elevated to the pinnacle of the tree. Surviving and thriving throughout generations of dynamic change has seen a handful of estates create an elusive world, shrouded in mystique and verging on the ethereal.

Those who know me know I could not write this without starting in Bordeaux, and when a small parcel of Pontet-Canet 2000 landed on our desk not long ago, we simply could not resist to bite! Undeniably one of Bordeaux’s most revered estates the world over, Pontet-Canet has seen an incredible rise in quality of production in recent years under ownership of the Tesseron family with Alfred Tesseron at the helm. Tesseron along with ex-estate manager Jean-Michel Comme have completely transformed winemaking at the property, introducing innovative practices from organic and biodynamic winemaking, gaining certification in 2004.

 

Chateau Pontet-Canet 2000, Pauillac, Bordeaux

  

For many, 2000 marks the turning point for the estate, with eleven years of improvements under the influence of Tesseron and an exceptional vintage, the estate was gifted an opportunity to lay the foundation for the future of the new Pontet-Canet. With the wine just now coming into a long drinking window, you can expect rich tayberry fruit, woven with earthy maturity and wild mushroom, but do not be afraid to hold onto it for some time to come. The estate is currently in a period of transition, with youngest daughter Justine taking on more responsibility with a view to ultimately taking the reigns – it is certainly nice to know it is in good hands!

 

THE CLASSICAL

Tim Kirk from Clonakilla Vineyards in his vineyard
Tim Kirk of Clonakilla

Its undeniably a wonderful time to be involved in the world of wine, be it a passionate hobbyist to seasoned professional, the ever-changing landscape in recent years has seen the emergence of a diversity and variety that the industry has never before experienced. As part of this change the very definition of what is a classical wine is being pushed to new limits. Mendoza’s synonymity with Malbec, California’s brilliance with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Australia’s hallmark expressions of Shiraz… the notion of a classical region has changed beyond recognition.

Like a collective cohort of crafty and gifted younger brothers, the New World has looked to the Old World for inspiration, while playing in a land of much greater flexibility and transparency. Nothing could be truer than the wines of Clonakilla – whose most prized wine would not exist without a trip to a little-known producer in the Northern Rhône…

In 1991, second generation winemaker Tim Kirk travelled to the homeplace of Syrah. A once in a lifetime opportunity to taste from the barrels of Marcel Guigal introduced him to the world of co-fermentation, through the vehicle of Guigal’s top Côte-Rôties ‘La Mouline’ and ‘La Turque’, affectionately known as the ‘La La’ wines.

 

Clonakilla Vineyards - Tim Kirk doing co-fermentation with Syrah / Shiraz and Viognier
Syrah and Viognier co-fermentation

 

Tim found that the introduction of Viognier provided a balance and perfume that he had never associated with Syrah wines before. Fortunately for Tim, his brother Jeremy had prompted the family to plant Viognier just 5 years before in 1986 – a lucky stroke of fate indeed!

Upon Tim’s return the family immediately started experimenting with co-fermentation, with the first commercial release of the wine following in 1992. The new bottling quickly shot to fame, with its reputation going from strength to strength with each passing vintage.

 

Clonakilla - Shiraz Viognier

 

After a challenging 2016, his Shiraz-Viognier ’17 presented a much more classical growing season, resulting in beautifully ripe and intense fruit. Pure red berry core with a lace of delicate spice, incredible length and purity throughout. A baby for sure that will keep on giving for years to come.

 

THE RISING STAR

Jean-Baptiste Souillard - Rhone Valley winemaker
Jean-Baptiste Souillard (© Michel Joly)

Over the years we have worked hard to champion the lesser known or the up and coming. All too often the producers who go against the grain of some of the most established regions in the world, have a slower and more arduous journey to have their wines achieve the recognition that they deserve. When we discovered Jean-Baptise Souillard, we knew this is someone we really wanted to shout about!

From a young age, Jean-Baptise knew he wanted to work with wine. Learning from his father, who was director of the region’s largest co-operative, Cave de Saint-Désirat, Jean-Baptiste studied for over eight years gaining six diplomas in wine.

Gaining experience working with individual terroirs in Burgundy had a profound effect on his winemaking style, he became disillusioned with the notion of blending vineyards, with the belief that this only assisted in ‘watering down’ terroir. This inspired him to create a micro-négoce, where he would follow the Cistercian method, of single parcel vinification, focusing on hilltop sightings using traditional winemaking methods.

 

Jean-Baptiste Souillard - Cornas St Pierre

 

This Burgundian influence shines through in the purity of fruit that Jean-Baptiste achieves across his entire range. With such minimal quantities of all wines produced most simply run dry well before the release of the next vintage! In his Cornas St Pierre, 100% Syrah is presented in its most restrained and elegant guise. This 0.1-hectare vineyard was originally considered too cool to be planted, at 400 metres above sea level it produces some of the most balanced fruit in the region. Expect damson fruit and a lift of wild herbs, a long and precise mineral finish which only invites you into the next sip, glass, bottle, or case.

 

THE WONDERFULLY OBSCURE

Abe Schoener from the Scholium Project - California
Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project

It is easy to get wrapped up in the all too comfortable world of the known in wine. We fall into habits of favourite varietals and regions, and blind ourselves to the most exciting of discoveries. This is absolutely the case for fine wine, where innovators and rule breakers the world over fight for their place on the global stage.

Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project fell into the industry when taking a sabbatical from academia in 1998. He had the opportunity to train under John Kongsgaard and quickly took the pioneer's lessons and creative spirit to heart. Trips with John to the Northern Italian region of Friuli, and most notably to the cellars of Gravner would undoubtedly become sources of inspiration for Abe, even if he were yet to know it. Abe became known, as part of a syndicate of new producers, to push the boundaries of a relatively conservative Californian wine scene. Experimentation was at the heart of his project, with skin contact, extended aging, spontaneous fermentation, and little to no SO2 all playing major roles in his style of production.

 

Scholium Project - The Prince in His Caves - Farina Vineyards

 

At the heart of the winemaking is the specific representation of singular vineyards, for this reason each wine bears the name of the vineyard as opposed to a more generic AVA or varietal. The Prince In His Caves is composed of 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the base of the superb Farina Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. The inaugural vintage was in 2006, when the wine was all but made by mistake. In an attempt to concentrate aromas of a lacklustre vintage of this specific parcel, Abe allowed a percentage of free run juice off the skins, before realising he was never intending on making a wine with skins at all. Clearly his inner Gravner was unconsciously fighting to come out! Three-weeks skin contact results in a wine of waxy texture and richness. Fresh almond, green apple skin and a light elderflower cordial lead this wine to a mineral finish, bold in nature but beautifully balanced.

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