50 star wine buys

(by Peter Richards MW)

Decanter-January-2016-coverA few months ago I took part in a fascinating tasting.

Decanter magazine assembled 70 of the highest-scoring bottles available in the UK from a year’s worth of expert tastings. I tasted blind alongside Xavier Rousset MS and Sarah Jane Evans MW at Decanter’s London HQ in October 2015. Our task? To select the top 10 of these stellar bottles – as well as a top 50 overall.

The results were published in the January 2016 edition of Decanter. You can read the full article via this PDF: 50 star buys of 2015, Decanter magazine, January 2016 edition. It’s also on Decanter’s website.

From these aggregated results, the big headline was that no fewer than six of the top 10 bottles were Australian, yet more proof that there’s never been a better time to drink fine Australian wine of all hues. The result speaks of a country making better, more elegant and more diverse wines than it ever has before. This is no surprise, of course, but the scale of the Ozzie impact nonetheless provoked a few sharp intakes of breath when the bottles were revealed.

There were also some notable champions from the value camp. Romping into the top 10 was a modestly priced Chardonnay from Chile at around £13 as well as three more available for under £20. Given that some bottles reached up to and over £100, that’s a good showing from the cheaper end of the spectrum. In general, Argentine Malbec, Spain and Chile delivered some excellent value for money.

Chardonnay performed very well, with three wines in the top 10, nine in the top 50 (if you count fizz). This demonstrates how rapidly the wine world has switched from excess to elegance with this highly versatile variety. The ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) moment has clearly passed, just as the sickly, overworked versions of this chameleon among grapes are slowly being consigned to the history books. Now, the very best global Chardonnays are smart and sassy, all savoury refreshment and lovely nutty complexity.

So, on the basis of these results, you could argue that we judges were clearly Chardonnay tarts with more than a sneaking penchant for all things Ozzie. But of course, tasting blind, with nothing more than the (predominant) grape variety and vintage to go on, this was a fascinating, utterly honest exercise in the way that blind tastings can be. The wines were judged totally on their own merits and the results speak for themselves.

It was a shame that no sparkling wines made it into the top ten. Personally, I loved both the Hattingley Valley King’s Cuvee 2011 and Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (see my notes below). Both are wonderfully expressive, vivid, elegant wines in their own right but neither just quite made the cut.

Below are my personal tasting notes separated into stylistic category. They are my top rated wines, only including wines I marked 17.5/20 and over.


  • These are my individual notes, made at the tasting at Decanter HQ in London on 26th October 2015.
  • Results in the magazine differ as they were aggregate scores


Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007, England, 12% (£30-50) (19/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Complex green apple, herbal and bready tones. Seems tense, coiled like a spring. Some floral and blossom hints too. Very fine, taut and tense; brisk, mineral, focused and cogent. Still young! But with a lovely textural elegance from age too. Beautiful, thrilling Blanc de Blancs. Will get even better with time too.

Hattingley Valley Kings Cuvee Brut 2011, Hampshire, 12% (£65) (18.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Copper/pinkish tinge to hue. Rich, toasty, bready, complex and autolytic. Pretty joyous and very refined. Lovely focus, length and breadth. Wonderful texture. Stunning stuff, perhaps a little evolved for the age but it’s drinking beautifully now and has the minerality and focus/tension to develop further yet.

Codorniu Gran Codorniu Gran Reserva Xarel-lo Brut Cava 2009, 11.5% (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Appley, herbal, waxy. Fine mousse. Elegant texture. Savoury, cogent, well defined and savoury. Very engaging and drinkable. Not the most focused or complex but a very good example of its style


Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, 13.5% (£30-35) (19/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Wonderfully complex, swirling aromas of fresh dough, roasted nuts, bubbling butter. Real class and complexity here. Complex but not obvious. Wonderful textural elegance and nuance, savoury yet buttery and rich. Only slight quibble would be it could have more acid tension at its heart. Very long, complex and refined. Stunning Chardonnay, get me a case of this!

Wine & Soul Guru Douro 2013, Portugal, 12.5% (£28-20) (18.75/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Ooh nice roasted herb, toasty nuts, reductive style. Savoury, punchy, young. Good lemon rind flavours mix with the toasty oak on the finish. It’s direct, grippy, refreshing. Young. Well oaked, nicely rendered style. Works well. It may taste a bit Chardonnay-esque but it’s got its own herbal, lemon rind dynamic going on that’s very engaging.

Pandolfi Price Los Patricios Chardonnay 2012, Itata, 13.5% (£20) (18.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Pronounced nutty, bitter herb, reductive style. Complex, savoury, taut. Is the acidity/alcohol a touch rasping on the finish? Yes. But it’s a very engaging, complex style of oaked Chardonnay, and the brisk acidity fits with this context. Give it a bit of time.

Yalumba The Virgilius Viognier 2012, Eden Valley, 14% (£25-32) (18.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Lovey expressive honeysuckle, apricot rind aromas. Clever nutty oaking too. Succulent, rounded, juicy, heart-warming. Classic and very successful Viognier style. Elegant and resonant. Really well done. Rich and stylish but also moreish…

Pewsey Vale The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling 2009, Eden Valley, 12.5% (£17-20) (18.25/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Lovely baked apple, roasted lime aromas. Touch of cream and toast as well. Dry, essentially, but with good texture and succulence. Really long and stylish. Very impressive, mineral, complex, dynamic style. Has a sense of nobility to it.

Viu Manent Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2013, Casablanca, 13% (£13) (18/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Beautiful nutty, pressed lemon rind aromas. Positively reductive, if you’re into that kind of terminology. Good nutty savoury tones. Doesn’t quite harmonize perfectly on the back palate, the acidity and savoury tension sits a bit apart. But it’s elegantly crafted nutty savoury Chardonnay.

Fraser Gallop Parterre Chardonnay 2013, Margaret River, 13.5% (£22-24) (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Rich fruit, slight acetone and honey hints. Palate is better than the nose, good tension and grip, nice creamy texture (without overtly creamy flavours) melds well with juicy red apple flavours. Pretty complex and inviting, if not the most elegantly rendered.

Xanadu Reserve Chardonnay 2012, Margaret River, 13% (£60) (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Fresh green fruit, herbs and hint of wood smoke on nose. Tight, mineral style of palate. Focused, refreshing, intriguing style. Not massively concentrated but engaging in its linear, refreshing style. Could develop and improve a bit too.


Clonakilla Shiraz-Viognier 2013, Murrumbateman, 14% (£60-78) (18.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Beautiful vivid cracked black pepper and dark fruit aromas. Violets too. Juicy, savoury, crunchy, mid-weight. Wonderful.

San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2010, Tuscany, 14.5% (£50) (18.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Earthy dried and fresh cherry, some age evident here. Good firm savoury style, pretty classic, old-school feel but very well done in this context. Needs food. Could age further too. Very fine grained and structured.

Cascina Adelaide Barolo Fossati 2010, 14.5% (£36) (18.25/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Elegant warm earth, tar, hint of dried rose. Very fine dense tannins, touch of smoky development. Lovely cogency and finesse. Long. Could have a bit more nuance and complexity but it’s impressive, especially in this line up.

Man O’War Dreadnought Syrah 2012, Waiheke Island, 14% (£34) (18.25/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Dense and dark. Brooding. Black pepper, hints of violets and warm earth. Juicy, tangy, fine firm tannin. Seems young and self-contained, as if it needs to emerge more. But plenty of potential here. Very impressive. 

Chateau Boyd-Cantenac 2005, Margaux, 13.5% (£41-58) (18/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Toasty smoky aromas. Serious, structured palate. Still has lots to give but it’s a wonderful, classically proportioned style with energy and grace. Dense, lithe, pretty classic. Emerges in glass with a slightly invasive ashen note but it’s OK in the savoury context.

Costers del Priorat Clos Cypres 2013, Priorat, 14.5% (£15) (18/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Deep dense iron rich black fruit and wild herbs. Juicy, savoury, fine tannins, direct and young. Very impressive juicy ageworthy style. The Carignan, although expressive, has been tamed and focused here to good effect. Drinks now but will really improve with age. Good mineral core. Tiny bit caustic/hot on the finish, which should blow off over time.

Gen del Alma Ji Ji Ji 2014, Mendoza, 12.5% (£12-16) (17.75/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Medium hue. Wonderfully scented and engaging aromas of graphite, violets, dried fruit and warm earth. It’s old school, earthy grainy grippy style, very food friendly, not overdone. Mid-weight, juicy insistent acidity, fine savoury structure. A bit rustic but refreshing and savoury. Sappy, in essence.

Baron de Ley Reserva Rioja 2010, 13.5% (£12.50) (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Evocative scent. Wood smoke, coconut, dark cherry and strawberry. Fine. Midway between a modern and traditional style. Young. Good juicy red fruit acidity, ripe black fruit tones, good firm oaking and structure. Needs time to come into its own although it drinks fine now.

Castello di Bolgheri, Bolgheri Superiore 2011, Tuscany, 14.5% (£34-60) (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Creamy, plush plum and cassis. Some smoky tones. Tannins are a bit fierce but it has the tangy black fruit and juicy concentration to develop. Quite steely and sinewy. Good potential.

Domaine Joblot Givry 1er Cru Servoisine 2013, Burgundy, 13% (£24) (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Fairly deep cherry hue. Herbal, bright plum and cherry tones. Pretty forceful, grippy, fruit-forward. Seems interesting and lithe but young. Needs time to open up, unfurl and come into its own. Until then, it remains potential.

Prats & Symington Chyrseia 2012, Douro, 14% (£50-55) (17.5/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Deep hue. Peppery, violets and dark fruit. Juicy, peppery, young. Quite savoury and forceful in style, firm tannins. Needs to resolve a bit, it’s still a bit punchy, but lots of lovely complexity here too.

Sweet and fortified

Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives 2007, Alsace, 13% (£33-56) (19/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Golden hue. Exotic honeyed lychee and red apple aromas. Rich, succulent, honeyed style. Sweet and spicy, but with good balancing acidity. Pretty big and expansive on the finish, spicy too. One to serve by itself, meditation wine. Lovely stuff in its lush spicy style. You don’t find this every day.

Quinta do Vesuvio 1994, Portugal, 20% (£60-80) (17.75/20, PR, Oct 2015) – Beautiful peppery dried plums, graphite, muscovado sugar. Dense, spicy, cogent. Balanced. Streaks of caramel running through it. Gently bittersweet and fiery on the finish. Nicely aged.