Valpolicella: One Gentle Wine from Verona

2016-11-08-09-23-01Looking for a low tannin, high quality red wine? Look no further than Valpolicella!

This fruity, yet elegant, red wine hails from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.

We tasted a selection of these wines at a recent Wine Media Guild luncheon and, while I had my favorites, there wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch. Even more impressive, most the wines were priced under $20.00.

While Verona is famous for its balcony, the valley (val), just north of the city, is known for its many (poli) cellars (cella). This amalgamated name has been attributed to the wine since the mid-12th century.

The region relies on indigenous grape varieties, with most wines produced as a blend of Corvina and Corvinone and, to a lesser extent, Rondinella (making up 5% to 30% of the total), supplemented with other authorized, red varieties. The resulting wines have aromas and flavors of berries, cherries and flowers, although I did find some herbaceous notes in a few of the wines we tasted.

Unlike its vinous siblings – Amarone and Ripasso – these wines are not aged nor are they influenced by dried grapes. Consequently, they are wines that are honest about their origins. Looking at the vineyards themselves, the focus has been on reducing chemicals through the Consorzio’s “Reduce Respect Retrench” Project. To date, low impact pest control measures have been implemented for 2,000 ha (approximately 25% of current plantings) and growing.

Wines produced from grapes grown within the most historic (aka classic) area are called Valpolicella Classico DOC, while those from the broader designation are simply, Valpolicella DOC.

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All in all, we tasted 12 wines; these were my top selections:
* Buglioni “Il Valpo” Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy, $19.00
* Scriani Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy, $17.00
* San Cassiano Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy, $N/A
* Fattori “Col de la Bastia” Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy, $N/A
* Massimago Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy, $17.00
* Villa San Carlo Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy, $N/A

The 2014 wines tended to be more acidic in style due to the cooler weather conditions of that vintage, while the 2015 wines were more generous. The Consorzio has very high hopes of the 2016 harvest being even better than 2015.

The wines paired quite well with pasta as well as with a pork dish and are a nice option for this transitional period of late autumn with its crisp, sunny days and cooler nights.

NB: Prices are listed when available on Wine-Searcher.com  All other wines are available in the U.S. somewhere, but not somewhere associated with Wine Searcher.

A Celebration of Love, Life & Bordeaux

It was time. The older Bordeaux wines we had collected were coming into their own and it was time to taste them.

We selected ten wines from the cellar and assembled an equally stellar group of friends for a multi-course dinner at our home in September.

The line-up was impressive, but perhaps the piece de resistance was the Carruades de Lafite 2000, Château Lafite Rothschild’s second wine. Purchased through Sherry-Lehmann back in 2001 through a Future’s campaign*, the wine represented our first major foray into the wine world and marked the occasion of our fifth year of marriage.

The traditional gift for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood and I racked my brain for months on what to get hubby. Finally, I discovered the concept of wine futures: buying wine before it has been bottled and released (and, generally, still aging in oak barrels at the time). Consequently, it was an appropriate gift and one that we would both appreciate as we were just getting our bearings in wine.

We had visited Bordeaux on our belated honeymoon trip in 1999 and very much enjoyed these wines, but still didn’t know a lot about wine in general. Accordingly, we associated much of our love of wine with Bordeaux.

As luck would have it, the object of the Futures were the much vaunted 2000s, which meant high praise and high prices. Getting over my initial sticker shock, I pulled out my copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (who incidentally teaches his 40th and last class this fall) and read up on the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. I couldn’t afford the top growths; instead, I selected seven different bottles of wine, choosing third growths, a fifth growth, several second wines from top producers and a St. Emilion Grand Cru for a total expenditure of $236.00 – quite pricey for us at the time.

With only a single bottle of each, we had been reluctant to open any of these special wines previously, but with over 40 bottles of Bordeaux in our cellar, the impending arrival of our 20th wedding anniversary was as good as an excuse as any to justify their consumption.

We carefully crafted a menu to highlight the wines and chose pairings from the Left and Right Banks to provide the opportunity to compare Cabernet-dominant and Merlot-dominant wines, respectively.

And, of course, we ended the meal with a lovely aged Sauternes, giving guests the option of finishing off on a sweet or savory note, or both!

Overall, the dinner was a perfect marriage of good food, good wines and good company as well as a wonderful celebration of our continued partnership both in the kitchen and out.

Dinner
Hamachi Crudo
Marinated Yellowtail Tuna with Jicama & Greens
Château La Louvière Blanc 2011, Pessac-Léognan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rack of Lamb
Herb & Mustard-Crusted Islandic Lamb with Zucchini and Carrot Purée
Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2010, Pauillac
Château La Tour Figeac 2008, St. Emilion Grand Cru

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magret de Canard
Roasted Duck Breast with Blackberries and a side of Duck Fat Potatoes
Château d’Armailhac 2005, Pauillac
Château Les Hauts-Conseillants 2005, Lalande de Pomerol

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese Course
Fort Saint Antoine Comté (Aged 36 mos), Burgundy, France
~and~
Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar (Aged 24 mos), Devonshire, England
Château Giscours 2001, Margaux
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2001, St. Emilion Grand Cru
Carruades de Lafite 2000, Pauillac
Château Certan de May 1998, Pomerol

Dessert
Bloc de Foie Gras
Served with Roasted Figs and Toast Points
~and~
Crème Brûlée
Caramel Custard with Burnt Sugar Crust
Château Doisy-Védrines 1998, Sauternes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NB: When buying wine futures, it is imperative that you work with a trusted agent or retailer since the company will take your money now, but you won’t receive the wines for two years.

 

Alie Shaper asks and answers the question: What If?

2016-10-24-18-12-53 I first met Alie Shaper at a Women for Wine Sense event in February 2010. At the time, the President and Winemaker of Brooklyn Oenology, was four years into her Brooklyn-centric wine brand, which merges New York State agriculture with the vibrancy of New York City culture.

Now, as she celebrates Brooklyn Oenology’s tenth anniversary, she has ventured out with an additional range of wines: As If. The three wines that make up the new collection – a white, rosé and red – are respectively called Serendipity, Courage and Persistence and chart her foray into the wine industry. The Cornell alumna kicked off her career with an engineering degree and a military contract in San Jose, CA before returning to New York to start a life in wine.

This new wine line was conceived in 2014 when Alie received unexpected access to great grapes and saw the opportunity to tell her story – both past and present – through wine: from her serendipitous exposure to the world of wine; her courage to follow her passion; and the continued persistence to make her dreams come true.

Greeting me at the As If launch party, Alie explained that she wanted to, “Do something less about Brooklyn and more metaphysical,” this time around.

All the wines are labeled as New York State, likely for consistency, but the white and red are technically produced from Nork Fork of Long Island fruit and the grapes for the rosé were sourced from the Finger Lakes.

The As If Serendipity White 2014, New York State, (SRP $35.00) is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier, 30% Sauvignon Blanc. It is fresh with melon, citrus fruit and apple notes, bright acidity and long length.

As Alie pours the As If Courage Rosé 2014, New York State, (SRP $28.00), she quips, “This is literally liquid courage.” The wine brings together 50% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Petit Verdot. It is a deep-colored, dry wine with watermelon, spice and a meatiness/heartiness that make it a good autumn rosé.

Finally, the As If Persistence Red 2014, New York State (SRP $40.00), with 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite of the three, so I was not surprised when Alie revealed that the Cab Franc came from Macari, one of my favorite Franc producers. This stunning wine displayed complex aromas and flavors of toast, berries, and dried herbs, along with good acidity and long length.

The wines are available for purchase through Brooklyn Oenology.

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IDNYC opens doors to the city’s jewels

idI have always maintained that everything is better that sparkles — wine, water, diamonds and personalities. So, George Balanchine’s Jewels ballet is no exception.

Inspired by a visit to Van Cleef and Arpels, Jewels is a work in three parts: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. The Emerald set included slivers of malachite draped on the sides, while the sky dripped with glittering gems suspended above the dancers who were adorned with faux stones that sparkled brightly from the stage. It was magnificent to watch the glitter and glamour as the ballerinas took the stage to practice their pirouettes one last time before curtain.

This chance to attend the working dress rehearsal of such an iconic ballet was thanks to my membership in the New York City Ballet. And, the membership, at least for this year, is courtesy of IDNYC.

Don’t have your card yet? What are you waiting for?

IDNYC was launched by the mayor in 2014 as a way to provide a government-issued photo identification card for all city residents, particularly those who may have difficulty getting other government-issued IDs. But, even if you don’t need another government-issued ID, the benefits for all card holders include a one-time membership in many of New York City’s finest cultural institutions such as the ballet.

Since getting my IDNYC in January, I have been blessed to visit the Museum of Modern Art gratis; obtain advanced ticket sales opportunities for NY City Center; receive a flurry of event invites from BRIC; and purchase discount tickets to The Book of Mormon. The benefits of being a member of the New York City Ballet have been my favorite and, most importantly, a reminder of how much I love the ballet. I will be sure to support the ballet after my complimentary membership expires as a result of this experience.

 

Getting ready for Morocco with an introduction to Domaine Ouled Thaleb

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

Morocco has a long and storied history, which includes being divvied up among France, Spain and the British until its independence in 1956. During France’s occupation, land was planted to wine grapes, which helped to quench the palates of thirsty Frenchmen. After their departure, many of the vineyards were abandoned, but today, the Moslem country still grows grapes and makes wine, although many Moroccans don’t indulge in alcohol.

Established in 1923, Domaine Ouled Thaleb is among the oldest Moroccan wineries in existence and helped lead the country’s renaissance in the 1990s. During this period, new vines were planted, with a continued emphasis on French grapes. Domaine Ouled Thaled currently practices organic farming and produces a range of wines, most of which are red, reflective of the country’s Mediterranean climate.

On the (relative) eve of our own departure for Morocco, we had the opportunity to taste two of their wines: Ouled Thaleb Signature 2013 (SRP $28.00) and Aït Souala 2012 (SRP $24.00). Both of these wines are blends, which bring together grapes from the AOG (Appellation of Origin Guaranteed) of Zenata, a coastal region that spans between the northeastern cities of Casablanca and Rabat.

We were very impressed with the Aït Souala, an interesting blend of Arinornoa, Tannat and Malbec. I had initially presumed that Arinornoa was Moroccan, but in fact, it is the result of a 1956 crossing of Merlot with Petit Verdot. So, not Moroccan, but created the same year as Moroccan independence and thus a fitting grape for its production there. This wine displayed aromas of candied cherry, slight herbs and slight wood notes, with the flavors of smoke and smoked meats – almost Syrah in nature – on the medium-bodied palate. It has low tannins, medium acidity and long length.

The Ouled Thaleb Signature brought together Carmenere, Marselan and Petit Verdot, aged for 14 months in barrel along with another 10 months aging in bottle. It has a pronounced nose with spices and dried herbs that persisted on the palate, along with medicinal and earthy notes, which we attributed to brett*. I don’t know if our displeasure with this wine was specific to this bottle or indicative of the wine and I was unable to find alternate reviews to see if our opinion had been shared.

In general, this winery garners praise for its wines, so if you come across them in your local store, I would suggest giving them a try. I was pleasantly surprised how well balanced and elegant the wines were; I expected a much more fruit-forward style given my pre-travel impressions of the country. It will be interesting to see what I think of the other Moroccan wines we encounter on our travels this month.

*Brett (or more correctly, brettanomyces) is a naturally occurring yeast that can add a complexity to the wines, but is controversial as to whether or not it is a flaw in the wine or not.

NB: These wines are distributed by Nomadic Distribution in California and also appear to be available through VOS Selections.

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!

Valdivieso and Chile’s land of wine opportunity

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Brett Jackson was born and raised in the north-central area of New Zealand’s North Island, but, as a teenager, had the opportunity to work at Stony Ridge Vineyards on Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland. It was there, in the nascent New Zealand wine industry, that he got the desire to pursue a career in wine and subsequently studied horticulture since the local schools didn’t have viticulture programs yet.

Once he was trained, Brett began to get hands on experience, working in the Napa Valley and Stellenbosch before landing a contract to make wine in the South of France for the Lurton brothers. Pleased with his performance, the Lurtons sent him to Chile in 1994 to oversee one of their projects there.

It was in Chile that he finally found his viticultural home and stopped wandering from wine region to wine region. He saw an energy and focus; Chilean wine was just starting to boom and was very open to new ideas. At the time, there were approximately 50,000 hectares of vines planted – inappropriate vines in inappropriate places (as he notes) – but over the next ten years, the industry began to get serious – adding an additional 50,000 hectares and really starting to understand its climate and soils.

At this point in his life, he has a spouse, children and a mortgage, so he isn’t going anywhere, but even if he had the freedom to roam, he doesn’t want to. He says that there is still so much going on. For him, Chile still represents tremendous opportunity and is a great place to make wine in a small area.

More specifically, Brett sees Chile as a mosaic with numerous pieces (places) to craft quality wines. Moving from East to West, the two mountain ranges – the ancient coastal ranges at 1,000 m and the more famous Los Andes at 4,000m – significantly impact the various climates. At the western edges, a cool climate offers an ideal location for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others, while the warmer, eastern areas are good for reds.

His present employer – Valdivieso – was established as early as 1869 and cemented a reputation as a producer of high quality sparkling wines. Today, 50% of their current production still centers around sparkling wines; they produce both Traditional Method and Charmat style wines. The former focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the latter blends in Semillon for a fresher, more aromatic result.

Among the winery’s extensive portfolio, they offer a terroir series – wines made from single vineyards / particular lots in smaller productions (500 to 3,000 cases each). They are bringing two of these wines to the U.S.: a Chardonnay and, refreshingly, a varietally-labeled Cabernet Franc. These two wines seem to usher in the next phase of Chilean wines; elegant expressions of grape variety combined with traits of terroir, at reasonable price points (in this case the SRPs are $25.00).

Valdivieso also prides itself on its Caballo Loco range. Named for Jorge Coderch (known by his nickname which translates as Crazy Horse), who was instrumental in expanding the winery’s focus to include still wine production, these wines include Grand Cru blends and an intriguing flagship referred to by its iteration number.

This latter wine was “the first great wine from Chile,” initially produced in 1994 with the aim of showcasing the maximum expression of what a blend can be. And, it is a blend in every sense. Not only does it bring together numerous grape varieties, but it also incorporates a percentage of wine from each of the previous vintages. In this respect, the wine is fractionally blended. The result is a serious wine that is both powerful and elegant.

Tasting Notes

Valdivieso Blanc de Blancs NV, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
Produced from 100% Chardonnay, this wine is a bit shy on the nose, but opens up to a complex palate with citrus, pear and slight yeast notes; creamy and rich, with long length.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
On the nose, this wine offers apple, stone fruit, citrus and smoke. It is full-bodied, yet very elegant, with good acidity, nice fruit and only a subtle hint of oak from its 9 months in barrel. Brett advises that the apricot aromas and flavors will continue to develop with age.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013, Curico Valley, Chile, $25.00
Made from vines planted in the 1920s, this is one of the first varietal Cab Francs in Chile. Aromas of wet leaves, plum and mulberry greet the nose and persist on the savory palate, with gentle tannins and good freshness.

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $35.00
A blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is rich and ripe, with nice herbal notes. It comes from a warmer climate and is more New World in style than many of the other wines.

Caballo Loco No. 16 Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile, $70.00
Bringing together 50% of No. 15 and 50% from the 2011 vintage, this is a unique, non-vintage wine. This wine displays black and red fruit on both the nose and full-bodied palate, with power and elegance, culminating in long length.

Cave de Tain coming soon to a shelf or list near you

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The Rhône Valley is well known as a distinguished wine region, but perhaps less well known is the fact that the region actually lumps together the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. More importantly, there is a big distinction between the two, not exclusively, but especially, in terms of volume. The Northern Rhône represents only 5% of all Rhône Valley production, with all eight of its crus being equal in size to the production of the Southern Rhône’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But, in spite of its small size, it manages to produce big, bold, beautiful wines.

Within the Northern Rhône, leading producers, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Chave and Delas Freres, have made their mark on the American market, but Cave de Tain is only now turning its full attention to external markets. Established in 1933, the Cave de Tain cooperative currently has 359 members and is ready to hit the ground running now that they have signed with the U.S.-based Hand Picked Selections.

The winery is situated within Tain Hermitage, capital of the Northern Rhone and home to only 6,000 people. They produce wines within five of the crus along with a small production of IGP wines. All of the vineyards are intentionally no more than 15 km from the winery since the winery is Certified Sustainable, which means that everything they do is based on observation rather than according to a set plan. In this regard, they can carefully monitor the vineyards and only do things, such as spraying for mildew, when necessary.

Here, in the birthplace of Syrah, all of the reds they produce are 100% Syrah. Similarly, they have a mono-varietal focus when it comes to whites, championing Marsanne as their signature white grape. Both grapes play respective starring roles in Cave de Tain’s IGP Colline Rhodaniennes wines, which they hope will serve as an introduction to the Northern Rhône varieties. The company’s further philosophy is to use older and larger barrels, which accounts for the subtler oak influence in the resulting wines.

We tasted through a selection of seven wines beautifully paired with a family-style lunch at Rotisserie Georgette. Many of the wines hailed from 2015, which was a great vintage, one with balanced maturity and acidity, which is relatively rare to have high levels of both. The 2010 vintage was similar in nature, but 2015 is felt to be the better year. Today, the 2015s are drinking well now, but have sufficient fruit, acidity and tannins for aging. Of note, 2015 was a good vintage for both reds and whites. Admittedly, due to climate change, the last truly difficult vintage was 2008.

The IGP wines were very nice expressions of their respective grapes, displaying good fruit character and balance. The Marsanne 2015 (~$12.00) showed some complexity, with salty and nutty notes, along with pear and almond, while the Syrah 2015 (~$12.00) offered up blackberries, bright acidity and soft tannins.

Moving up the range to the Grand Classique wines from Crozes-Hermitage, the increased quality was immediately evident, while the price point remained reasonable. Presenting more noticeable fruit than its IGP counterpart, the Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2015 was beautifully rich, with aromas of peach and apricot, along with elegance and long length. Similarly, the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 had lush black fruit notes, with medium+ acidity and only a hint of oak influence.

The Grand Classique Hermitage wines are much pricier, which is to be expected given Hermitage’s reputation for long-lived wines of character and strength, but they deliver for the money and are worth the occasional splurge. The Grand Classique Hermitage Blanc 2010 was stunning! Rich and complex, it displayed a pronounced nuttiness, along with baking spices and dried stone fruit. Interestingly, we were advised that Marsanne takes only a few years to develop in bottle, but then will hold that development for some time. The Grand Classique Hermitage Rouge 2011 (~$76.00) is a gorgeous wine with spice, blackberry and dried herbs, silky tannins and lovely richness on the palate.

At the top of the range, the Gambert de Loche Hermitage Rouge 2011 – a plot selection named for the founder of the cooperative – offered more body and power than the straight Hermitage Rouge.

 

NB: Retail prices are noted when the wine appeared available in the U.S. market as per Wine Searcher. Since these wines are just hitting the U.S. trade now, it will take some time before they become widely available. We were advised that the wines were being priced fairly, yet assertively, so they will represent great value for the quality.

 

Make Mine A Malbec

2016-09-27-19-08-03Malbec is a grape variety better known for its time spent in Argentina, but the variety got its start in Southwest France, where it continues to not only survive, but also thrive. In fact, it presently accounts for nearly 9,000 acres in the southwest, making it one of the most planted grapes in the region.

Given the grape’s popularity in the market, these wines are making their way to the U.S. under the varietally-labeled option as well as its more traditional appellation of Cahors. Here are two wines to try.

Château Lagrézette Malbec 2010, France, $30.00
Château Lagrézette was built by Adhémar de Massaut in the 15th century on a hill overlooking the Lot River. Purchased by Alain Dominique Perrin in 1979, by 1982 the chateau was classified as a historical monument and a full restoration was completed. The property now boasts 90 hectares of vines. Deep purple in color, this wine offers up smoke, black and blueberry fruit with oak notes. Its dry, medium+ acid palate is full bodied with medium, fully ripe tannins, black and blue fruit, plum, smoke, oak, light heat, powerful yet balanced. Still young and fresh. Long length.

Domaine de Cause La Lande Cavagnac 2013 Cahors, France, $17.00
Owned by the Durou-Costes family, the care and management of Domaine de Cause was resumed by Serge and Martine Costes in 1994 in order to maintain Martine’s family’s legacy. Today, they utilize sustainable farming practices to craft the Malbec-based wines of Cahors. The La Lande Cavagnac is produced from a selection of the oldest vines on the estate. Aromas of plum, blueberry and blackberry greet the nose and persist on the palate, along with vibrant acidity and firm tannins.