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


A Surprising Syrah

The below wine was tasted blind and caused a lot of consternation.  I have copied up and expanded my blind tasting notes as a review.

hawkes bay.jpg

Foremost Syrah, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, 2015.

100% Syrah, Alcohol 13%.
Purchased in Lidl for £8.99.

Appearance: Moderate intensity garnet with purple rim.  Legs suggest alcohol probably around 12.5-13%.

Nose: Lean nose, mono-dimensional and primary but i struggle to identify much fruit in it. Volatile acidic compounds on nose contribute a slight vinegar note.

Palate: The wine is dry with very little residual sugar.  There was almost no fruit on the palate though what is there suggests darker rather than red fruit.  Seriously savoury but without the complexity that might be expected.  This has a light body, medium tannin, and high acidity.  There is a slight bitter/medicinal note on the finish – verging on tasting slightly unripe.  [Retrospectively after looking at other tasting notes for this wine I agree there are prominent white pepper notes which are the basis of the savoury flavour]

Quality: The wine is well made with no faults of note.  The balance is actually quite good. I would rate this as likely vin de pays or low ranking appellation.

Identity: With the austere presentation I felt this was most likely an old world wine, and certainly from a marginal climate. I really struggled to identify the grape although Syrah was in my shortlist.

Expected Price: £4-5

Initial Score: 79/100

Day Two:  After 24 hours in the decanter I went back and tasted this again and was surprised to find it was showing much better.  The wine had opened up somewhat with a mixed red/black fruit fleshing out the aromas.  Frankly this was a far more enjoyable wine on the second day.  The score would probably edge up a bit but I don’t seem to be on the same page as Decanter with this one.

Conclusion: A quaffing wine for those preferring a dry and savoury style. I have no qualms drinking this (in fact I have quite enjoyed it) but it does little to excite.  Despite this it is an interesting wine and I would be keen to search out a few more examples of Syrah from Hawke’s Bay.   The white pepper notes and general presentation for Syrah are certainly unique.

Old World Elegance Meets New World Flair

My experience with South African wine is somewhat limited; however I’m always interested to try new things! Spurred on by my good friend’s recent adventures in South Africa, I decided to find out what I have until this point largely been missing out on. Being a long time lover of all things Syrah (Shiraz), it was natural I gravitated towards this particular bottle. A tall sleek bottle that left me wondering was the wine as polished as the name suggests?

The Glenelly estate lies just northeast of the town of Stellenbosch in the southern foothills of the Simonsburg Mountain, sitting on a bed of decomposing granite, which lends itself to good drainage and deep roots to the vines. Whilst the region itself has been making wine for over 200 years, the Glenelly estate is a relative newcomer, having first produced wine in 2009, after being taken over in 2003 by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, previous owner of the Bordeaux Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Pauillac GCC). Wine making at Glenelly is headed by Luke O’Cuinneagain who has teamed up with the legendary Adi Badenhost (See ‘The ‘Rock-Star’ of Wine’). With this line up, the team clearly mean business and have already built up a reputation as a leading player in the Stellenbosch region.

Glenelly, The Glass Collection Syrah, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2011


100% Syrah, Aged for 12 months in old French oak barrels, Alcohol 14.0%
Production 42,000 bottles
£12.50 Lea & Sandeman

The wine boasts a deep amethyst colour with legs that wouldn’t look out of place on a fashion catwalk thanks to its impressive 14% alcohol content. It was the nose that truly blew me away, erupting from the glass with the most intense bouquet of roses and black cherries that does with time develop towards a more mature nose, more reminiscent of its cousins in the Rhone with black pepper predominating. On tasting, lots of red fruit juice comes to the fore, balanced well by rounded tannins and just the slightest hint of acidity to carry into a delightfully peppery finish. Again after an hour or so of air, the flavour develops a more austere character that is refreshingly different to the initial taste, once more bringing a flavour that is more in-keeping with a wine of particularly the northern Rhone (which may perhaps be a nod to the cooler year that was had in the region).

I’ve sat here and demolished several glasses of the wine with little more than a few crackers and a smearing of cheese, though I feel a pairing with a lighter pork dish or even a lamb dish would work well too. At the price point it really is excellent value, especially if you consider it along side some of the more traditional Syrah based wines which it more than stands up to. Madame de Lencquesaing, I doff my cap to you on a job well done.  89 points (MI)