Vintage Tuscan Classics

I was in Tuscany a couple of years ago and started to fall in love with Italian wines.  The below wines were tasted at The Sampler during my recent visit and this was a great chance to reminisce. I have been pining for mature Italian wines ever since but they are hard to get hold of without spending some serious money.  Being able to taste these for a reasonable price is wonderful.  Check out the main article for a review of The Sampler. One of these wines was already reviewed on the blog by my fellow author but I couldn’t resist commenting too.


Castello Di Ama, Vignetto Bellavista, Chianti Classico, 1995

When visiting Tuscany a few years ago Castello Di Ama’s Ama Chianti Classico was one of my favourites.  Unfortunately the prices for Castello Di Ama are pretty high in the UK so I have not got round to tasting any since.  This was the first time I have tasted a wine from the Gran Selezione single vineyard range, or a Chianti Classico with this much age.  Unfortunately we tasted this as an afterthought following the Hermitage when it should certainly have been tasted before. This was delicate and aromatic with predominant red fruit and some residual tannin.  This is a complex wine that deserves the time to be enjoyed – my only note written at the time was “Delicious – I would like to sit down with a bottle of this!”

Antinori, Tiganello, Tuscany 1989

I have previously tried Tiganello in its youth whilst visiting Tuscany.  It was a treat to revisit it at the other end of its progression.  In youth this is tightly wound, highly tannic, with only a hint of the underlying aromatics and complexity showing.  At 27 it is the colour of chocolate with a hint of oxidation on the nose but an incredible depth and intensity. There were floral notes, a sense of a dusty cellar and the fruit breaking down.  This retained high acidity with perfect poise. There was some minerality (iron) notes complimenting the lengthy finish.  This was a wine towards the end of its life but it is in a very graceful state at present. I’d love to try this around 20 years of age.  Score 93/100.


An Exciting Marlborough and 1960 Vintage Port

Sauvignon Blanc is popular at present in the UK and I understand commands a higher average price than other wines among UK high street consumers. I have a suspicion that it is tropical new world Sauvignon responsible for this rather than Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. I think fans from both camps may well be in for a shock if they wound up with a bottle of this great Sauvignon from Dog Point.

Perhaps not quite so popular among the general public is vintage Port. In part this is due to cost but it is also due to the huge amount of ageing required to tame this most magnificent of wines. At 56 years old this was ready to drink but the idea of waiting 20+ years to touch it would have shocked me even a few years ago. Lay some down

These wines were tasted during my recent visit to The Sampler. These wines didn’t fit anywhere else so I put them together. Check out the main article on my visit to The Sampler.

Dog Point, Section 94, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2012:

This is a really interesting Sauvignon Blanc. This is a serious affair from a small plot, barrel aged with extended less contact yielding a wine of great intensity. This is very different from characteristic lower end Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (primary tropical notes). Strangely all of us tasted this picked up on a strong note of capsicum on both the nose and palate, leading into a spicy finish. This was a savoury and interesting wine and something I will be revisiting by the bottle at some point in the future.


Crofts Vintage Port, Portugal, 1960:

Boy this was a treat. My experiences with old port are limited but every one only serves to increase my interest. At 56 years old this is showing beautifully. Over Christmas of this year I opened a bottle of Taylor’s 1985 which was gloriously intense, young and fresh. The benefit of the extra 25 years shows itself in this bottle of Crofts.  This throws a strong dark sediment which gradually settled to reveal the pale pink/ruby nectar above.  Great mouthfeel (still full bodied but not thick as in youth), grip from residual tannin and a warming sensation all the way to the stomach from the alcohol. I would struggle to do justice to the flavour but its complex, fruity, silky and delicious.  This is a vintage port in its prime and I would take this over dessert every day.


Learning Point: Marlborough Sauvignon is really getting interesting but given enough time you cannot beat Port.

Bodegas Roda, Rioja, Spain


I continue my series on travel to Rioja with another modern powerhouse of Rioja: Bodegas Roda.  We visited the Roda Wine Bar in the station district of Haro, a short stumble along the road from R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta and Gomez Cruzado.

The station district in Haro boasts a ridiculous density of top flight wineries – if you only have time to make one stop in Rioja this should be it.

Bodega Roda is really the new boy on the block in Haro’s station district – founded in 1987. Roda keeps things simple making only red wines. The entry level red Roda Sela is already of a phenomenal standard and this is followed up with a pair of fascinating reservas: Roda and Roda I.  The reservas are blended on the basis of the fruit characteristics of each barrel, creating the red fruit dominant Roda Reserva and the black fruit dominant Roda I Reserva.  Forming the vanguard is the flagship Cirsion which unfortunately was not available for tasting.

The tasting room at Roda is a modern affair, serving the wines by the glass and very reasonably priced plates of local cheese and charcuterie. Rounding this off with some bread and their superb olive oil makes a delicious snack or even lunch depending on your appetite. Under the tasting room lies a 19th century cellar and this environment is the perfect place to finish off any remaining wine sheltered from the midday sun.


The wines of Roda and a light lunch of Charcuterie, Bread, Oil and Cheese

Wines Tasted: Roda Sela 2012, Roda Reserva 2010, Roda I Reserva 2007, 2008

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The Battle of Château Batailley

Château Batailley, named after the battle that took place on the property some 600 years ago, is the sort of wine that, on paper, I would buy. Tasting notes promise a deep cassis and fragrant cedar bouquet. Furthermore, it is known for being ‘good value’ Bordeaux, with bottles starting at under £30, duty paid.

On our third visit to The Sampler, we tasted two famous expressions of Chateau Batailley: 2000 and 2005. This was an exciting opportunity to taste mature Bordeaux from excellent vintages, and to see whether the wine lived up to its on-paper reputation.

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Château Batailley, 2000, Pauillac

Lighter than the 2005, with a touch of brown on the rim. A muddy nose with hints of chocolate, violets and plum. Disjointed on the palate. The fruit has largely gone, replaced with a distinctive tomato flavour that I often find in fully-washed coffees. Graphite pencil shavings and toasty oak towards the end. This is not silky; there is a dusty component to the mouth-feel. The tannins have faded. Conclusion: Slightly weird, and certainly not what I was expecting. Despite this, I did enjoy the wine. 89 Points (BP)

Château Batailley, 2005, Pauillac

Immediately more focussed than the 2000, with berry fruit and cassis still present. There is more structure here, from acidity, minerality and tannin. Cedar perfume, some liquorice and oak on the finish. Very drinkable. 90 Points (BP)

Learning point: The 2005 won the battle. It ‘does what it says on the tin.’

A Vertical of Hermitage

A few years ago I have a vivid memory of enquiring when a bottle of 2008 Colombier Hermitage would be ready for drinking. The wine merchant jocularly replied that to open the bottle within the next few years would be infanticide. Ever since I have been cautious about purchasing this most splendid expression of Syrah. When I saw the below selection of wines to taste I had no choice but to try the lot. It would indeed have been a crime to drink these before they reached maturity but you need great patience to get there.

Tasting wines of this pedigree and age by the glass is a wonderful thing and was the highlight of my recent trip to The Sampler.  If we had not had so many samples by this point I would have sat down with a larger glass of one of these.  They were not cheap to taste, but then again they are not cheap by the bottle.  Am I still scared of buying Hermitage – well probably.

Check out the main article for a review of The Sampler.


Left to Right: J.L. Chave 1984, J.L.Chave 1985, Marc Sorell 1988, Jaboulet La Chapelle 1995

Paul Jaboluet, La Chapelle, Hermitage, 1995:

This is still surprisingly young, fresh, and fruity.  Marizipan and Prunes dominated both the nose and palate and the wine had a great intensity.  Plenty of life left in this and a great intensity.

Marc Sorrel, Hermitage, 1988: 

Unfortunately this struggled to stand up to the competition and was showing its age.  In other company this was still a good wine (and probably delicious), but it felt a bit flat on this occasion.

J.L. Chave, Hermitage, 1985:

This is an absolute Rolls Royce of a wine. For a 31 year old wine this showing beautifully, certainly not yet over the hill. This still has fruit, the tannin is mostly resolved although the wine retains grip, and the balance is impeccable. This is a phenomenal wine from a top vintage and right in the prime of its drinking window. I’d like to sit down with a glass of this to put a formal score on it but we could well be talking 95+ points.

J.L. Chave, Hermitage, 1984:

We tasted the 1984 before the 1985 due to 1985 being the better vintage (and double the price). This is a totally different beast to the 1985. If 1985 is a prime racehorse then this is a racehorse that has gone feral. This has an incredible intensity and depth on the nose with dominant aromas of bacon fat and cured meats. The palate does not disappoint either – not as svelte as the 1985 but this has some serious character. If I was buying a single bottle I would probably go for one of these.


The Enomatic Tasting machine that makes tasting such a selection possible

German Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Chambertin

Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grow and low yields result in high prices. This grape is responsible for my both my best and worst wine experiences.  The best Pinot Noir is always perfumed and may combine this with intensity, elegance or even a beguiling ethereal nature.  At its worst the wines become thin and acidic. It is a grape that adapts phenomenally to terroir.  The patchwork appellation system of Burgundy is an attempt to categorise the myriad expressions of this noble grape.

The Grand Crus of Burgundy hold a hallowed place in the world of wine, but that is not to say they are alone as the top expressions of the grape. Indeed given the cost most of us will need to look elsewhere for anything but the most special of occasions.  The German wine from Stepp below would not be a bad place to start and the new world is also beginning to find its feet.

The below wines were tasted at The Sampler during my recent visit.  I have only minimal exposure to both German Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Burgundy so this was quite a treat. Check out the main article for a review of The Sampler.


Stepp Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany, 2014:

No formal notes on this one but this is a producer I have been very impressed with over the past couple of years.  This was my first chance to taste the Pinot Noir and given it costs around £15 this is top flight for the price point .  I found this savoury, tasty and well balanced with a lot more complexity than I would expect at this point. I will be buying again soon. Bravo.

Leflaive & Associe, Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, Burgundy, 2011:

I think this was probably too young to really get into.  It had an intensity but seemed somewhat closed.  Strangely this also had a strong note of capsicum running through both nose and palate, overlying rich fruit and good structure.  Medium body and tannin, warming rich and well balanced. At the moment I am unsure where this one is going but it has potential and is an interesting semi savoury, semi sweet expression of Pinot Noir.  Hopefully time will pull all the elements together.

Domaine Rossignol-Trapet, Chambertin Grand Cru, Burgundy, 2011:

Aromatic, sensuous, deliciously rich red fruit. In contrast to the wine above this was 100% together. The body was medium and the balance impeccable. Given this is so young I dread to think how good this can become with time. They talk about Bordeaux being cerebral and Burgundy being well, something else. My lack of tasting note says it all – this had us all with smiles from ear to ear: Simply Marvellous.

2004 Bordeaux Showdown

These wines were tasted during my recent visit to The Sampler. OK so maybe 2 bottles isn’t quite a showdown but it was a good opportunity to see how the vintage is shaping up. 2004 is a middle of the road vintage but I was pleased with both of these classed growth contenders. As for maturity the answer is very much dependent on the wine as these were in a different place in their evolution.  I guess this tasting really demonstrates the use in being able to try a wine before you take home a bottle.  Check out the main article on my visit to The Sampler.


Château Langoa-Barton, 3ème Cru Classé, St-Julien, Bordeaux, 2004
Château d’Armailhac, 5ème Cru Classé, Paulliac, Bordeaux, 2004

Tasting these wines side by side was an interesting experience.  [Leoville-Barton 2001 rates among one of my favourite wines and this was my first opportunity to taste the sister wine Langoa-Barton.]  Langoa-Barton still felt quite fiery in youth at this point in time – it was tannic, lots of rich fruit, and was yet to fully integrate the different components. This was a very well made wine but has not yet reached an elegant plateau.  If you want to drink it now then I would recommend pairing with something like a rare steak.  The d’Armailhac in comparison was balanced, elegant and delicious with greater complexity at this point. There is no doubt that the d’Armailhac is more advanced in its maturity and will begin to fade far sooner than the Langoa-Barton, but for drinking now I would take the  d’Armailhac every time.

Chardonnay @ The Sampler


I think we tasted pretty much all of the Chardonnay on offer.  It is great to be able to move through the different styles in a short period of time without breaking the bank.  For the old world wines we started off with the Chablis, moved up in weight to the Cote De Beaune and then on to the Puligny-Montrachet and Mersault. For me the Gaelle et Jerome Meunier Puligny-Montrachet 2012 was the star of the show with a classic burgundian nose and elegant well integrated oak.  Plenty of citrus on the palate, good acidity, a long finish and great balance  rounded off this wine.  The Sylvian Dussort Vielles Vignes Mersault 2013 was a different beast, more muted on the nose, less prominant oak, but a brilliant mouth feel and minerality that carried it to equally resounding heights. Unfortunately I struggle to remember much of the new world wines but I think this was purely the result of tasting them after the superb Burgundy that went before.

Wines tasted at The Sampler.  Please check out the main review on The Sampler for more information.

An Italian Heavyweight

When I think of Italy, I think of Rome. When I think of Rome, I think of Romans. When I think of Romans, I think of Wine.

Pliny the Elder was an important source of Roman writing on wine. In his encyclopaedia: Naturalis Historia, he includes a ranking of several ‘first growths’ of the time. If he were to be re-incarnated and update his book (published between 77-79AD), I am certain that Castello di Ama’s vineyard, Bellavista, would be included.

Castello di Ama is one of Tuscany’s most famous estates, producing a well renowned and good value Chianti Classico. However, if you want to try some truly spectacular, try the Vigneto Bellavista. This is a single-vineyard wine consisting of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Malvasia Nera. It is only made in exceptional years, with 1995 being one of them. Back in 2012, Antonio Galloni (then at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate), gave this wine 96 points. So, with the purely educational intention of understanding what a ’96 point wine’ would taste like, I have it a try.

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Castello di Ama, Vigneto Bellavista, 1995

Wonderful concentration in colour even now, after 20 years. Exuberant nose of kirsch and strawberry. Amazing that the fruit still dominates at this age. Opulent mouth-feel, but beautifully balanced; I could drink this all day. There isn’t too much of anything: the fruit isn’t jammy, the minerality doesn’t numb your mouth, the acidity brings balance without electrocuting you. There are some hints of sweet shisha tobacco and some herbal elements. This is a brilliant wine and one that justifies its price tag. 94 points (BP- The Sampler, South Kensington).

Learning Point: I should be a famous critic (Antonio Galloni tasted a vertical from this vineyard).



The Sampler, South Kensington, London


I had been planning to visit The Sampler for a while and finally got round to it. I think I have found my new favourite place in London to browse for wine.  There are two locations, South Kensington and Islington, with the South Kensington offering a fusion of wine shop and bar.  Both locations offer up to 80 wines from the range to sample using Enomatic wine dispensers and include both good value wines and vintage rarities.

Now I have been to a few places with these machines in the past (Le Vignoble, Plymouth, and a couple of enotecas in Greve, Tuscany), but nowhere with such reasonable prices or such a diverse selection.  Over the course of an afternoon with a friend we worked our way through 30 tasters of wines, a few bread baskets and oil (£2) and a cheeseboard (£8). For this part of London The Sampler represents brilliant value. The samples start under £1 for 25ml and went up to £13 for a 1985 Chave Hermitage.  Given the market value the markup on the samples is not bad at all.

If you are more interested in drinking wine than sampling they also offer a great deal on corkage – drink any bottle of wine at the shop price +£7.50. Although I didn’t get round to browsing the entire store they had a good selection covering most price-points.  It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon so we sat upstairs in the shop area but I understand there is a bar area downstairs and they also open into the evening. If I had to find a negative I am a bit of a stickler for glassware and we ended up with a slightly eclectic collection of tasting glasses (although the small Port glasses were superb). I am sure

The trip to The Sampler was a post-exam celebration and verging on boozy so my approach to tasting was far from academic.  I have made rough notes on the wines tasted and will post some links below once the articles are up.  Given how much fun we had I will be making a trip to check out the Islington store when I am next on that side of the city.

Conclusions: A pretty great wine shop and a bloody brilliant wine bar.  Making a trip here to buy wine would undoubtedly beat looking at sealed bottles with glazed eyes elsewhere. You will enjoy this place whether you want to spend £10 or £200.