Côtes du Rhône Villages

21 May, 2021 @ 12:00 am 12:30 am BST

Côtes du Rhône Villages Masterclass hosted by Matt Walls who will explore and explain the subtleties of the individual Rhône Villages – from Plan de Dieu to Visan.

Members can apply for one of twenty new tasting kits to watch on-demand a pre-recorded masterclass about the wines of Côtes du Rhône Villages, hosted by acclaimed Côtes du Rhône expert Matt Walls.

You will receive a tasting kit by post and a link to download the presentation and tasting notes.

The masterclass is already available to watch (on-demand) on the VIDEOS page.

This is a relaxed and informal way for our members to join in one of a series of sommelier-focused Discovery Tastings and Discovery Courses we have hosted since launching last year.

You’ll come away from this entertaining one hour session much wiser.

A TASTING KIT with eight wines will be sent to you, so you can taste along.

Wine n°1
Côtes du Rhône Villages Sablet 2015
Château du Trignon AOC

Wine n°2
Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret 2018
Domaine de Mourchon Grande Réserve AOC

Wine n°3
Côtes du Rhône Villages Séguret 2019
Domaine Eyguestre Le Maupas AOC

Wine n°4
AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu 2018
Domaine de Longue Toque

Wine n°5
Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux 2019
Famille De Boel France Aleph AOC

Wine n°6
Côtes du Rhône Villages Visan 2019
RHONEA Notre Dame des Vignes AOC

Wine n°7
AOC Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun 2020
Maison Sinnae Eléments Luna

Wine n°8
Côtes du Rhône Villages Laudun 2019
Maison Sinnae Domaine Combe Ferréol AOC

Apply for tasting kit

SORRY, all tasting packs have now been snapped up!

These tasting kits were allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Discovery tasting: Querciabella

17 May, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:00 pm BST

Querciabella has to be one of the most famous wine names in Tuscany. One of the original Super Tuscan producers having first released their flagship wine Camartina in 1982.

The Sommelier Collective has secured a fabulous tasting with winemaker Manfred Ing, winemaker and director Giorgio Fragiacomo straight from the tasting room at their estate, including an exclusive first tasting of the new Camartina 2016.

With some of the highest vineyards in Chianti, from the outset they were committed to producing a more elegant, terroir-focused wine than their contemporaries: the Burgundy to Bolgheri’s Bordeaux.

In Chianti, the vines across the communes of Greve, Radda, and Gaiole, their wines are a mosaic of different micro-plots – sometimes a single row – all harvested and vinified individually under the expert guidance of winemaker Manfred Ing. Alongside their land in the heart of Chianti Classico, Querciabella also established plots in Maremma on the Tuscan coast in 2000, and today they are the represent the largest holdings of certified vegan and organic vineyards in Italy.

Sustainability has always been at the heart of Querciabella – working with Organic methods since 1988 and certified in 2000, biodynamic practices since 2000, and 100% vegan since 2010. Today, they practice a unique form of plant-based biodynamics that is tailored specifically to their location and style.


Join winemaker Manfred Ing and Export Director Giorgio Fragiacomo in exploring their fascinating wines.

Manfred Ing, winemaker, Querciabella
Giorgio Fragiacomo, export director, Querciabella

Join us on Monday 17 May at 4pm to experience some truly mind-blowing wines.

Wines to be tasted

RSVP – register to receive a webinar link

Delivery details for tasting samples

SORRY, all tasting kits have been snapped up already for this event.

Please note: wine samples are available for only 30 members. If you have been allocated tasting samples you will be contacted by email with delivery details.

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Tasting kits are very popular. We give priority to new members and those who have not yet received one of these fabulous FREE tasting kits. Every member is eligible to apply for a tasting kit, and there are hundreds of you now – so please do not be disappointed if you don’t get a set of wines on this occasion.
We have plenty more tastings planned and we will ensure everyone gets their fair share (we have a lovely excel spreadsheet keeping track of all requests – so you won’t be overlooked!).

Discovery Tasting: Masters of Riesling

10 May, 2021 @ 10:30 am 11:30 am BST

Famille Hugel, possibly Alsace’s most renowned producer, and Pewsey Vale Vineyard, Australia’s leading Riesling producer from the Eden Valley, have come together to give you – the members of The Sommelier Collective – the inside track on the some of the world’s best Rieslings.

Louisa Rose, head winemaker at Pewsey Vale and Jean-Frédéric Hugel, 13th generation of Famille Hugel are joining us to showcase the spectacular versatility and class of this classic grape when produced in two different totally different parts of the globe.

Join us on Monday 10 May at 10;30am to discover the subtleties of terroirs, the versatility of the grape and the reason why Hugel and Pewsey Vale are considered the best in their field when it comes to Riesling.

Wines to be tasted

  • Famille Hugel Riesling Classic 2019
  • Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2020
  • Famille Hugel Riesling Grossi Laüe 2012
  • Famille Hugel Riesling ‘Schoelhammer’ 2010
  • Pewsey Vale The Contours Riesling 2015
  • Pewsey Vale The Contours 10YO Museum Release Riesling 2010


Louisa Rose, Head Winemaker, Pewsey Vale
Jean-Frédéric Hugel, 13th generation of Famille Hugel

Event Registration

Please send me a link to join the ZOOM webinar.

Delivery details for tasting samples


Tasting kits are very popular. We give priority to new members and those who have not yet received one of these fabulous FREE tasting kits. Every member is eligible to apply for a tasting kit, and there are hundreds of you now – so please do not be disappointed if you don’t get a set of wines on this occasion. We have plenty more tastings planned and we will ensure everyone gets their fair share (we have a lovely excel spreadsheet keeping track of all requests – so you won’t be overlooked!).

Discovery Tasting: Bouchard Père & Fils

Founded in 1731, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest names in Burgundy – and the region’s biggest owner of Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. The Sommelier Collective was delighted to host a tasting of some of their best domaine (own-vineyard) wines, with Cellar Master Frédéric Weber giving us a tour through top sites in the Cotes de Beaune – and lots of great information about Burgundy too!

We only have Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,’ said Frédéric, ‘so all the differences come from the terroir.’ But terroir, he points out, is not just about the region’s famous soils – or even geography; it’s the accumulation of experience.

‘Soil is important,’ he says, ‘so is altitude, exposure, the microclimates.

‘But the most important is the generations of humans who have cultivated the soil and transmitted their passion and knowledge to the next generation, improving the quality generation after generation.’

For Bouchard Père & Fils, part of that ‘improving the quality generation after generation’ ethos is seen in their commitment to organic viticulture. Currently 70 of their 130 hectares are converted to organic practices, and they plan to have them all certified by 2024. 

The Reds 

Clos de la Mousse 2015, Beaune 1er Cru, Monopole

£41 ex VAT, JE Fells

The Bouchard family bought their first vines in this tiny appellation in 1826, and over the next 46 years, purchased all the remaining plots to become sole owners of the appellation – making this wine a ‘monopole’. 

With quite clay-heavy soils, it’s a vineyard that doesn’t suffer from drought, and, as a result, does better than others in warmer, drier years such as 2015.

Fred called this a ‘magical’ vintage, with everything ripening beautifully and excellent vine health – but following hail damage the previous year, it was a small vintage. As a result, with low yields, the wine is naturally quite concentrated. 

‘Personally I love this vintage,’ said Fred. ‘The tannins are very round and the terroir expression is fantastic. ‘It’s a classical Beaune, with strawberry confiture flavours, and on the palate it’s round and delicate.’

Fred used round 20% whole cluster, something which, he says, brings floral notes such as ‘roses and peonies’ to the wine.

Volnay Les Caillerets ‘Ancienne Cuvée Carnot’ 2015, Premier Cru

£45 ex VAT, JE Fells

This is the first vineyard that the family bought back in 1775, so it’s a very important vineyard for Bouchard. The name comes from an old French word meaning that the soil is rich in limestone. After 50-70cm of soil, the wine is into a calcareous bedrock.

Limestone, he says, brings ‘delicacy’ to Pinot Noir. ‘We have an expression in Burgundy that ‘if you haven’t had a Caillerets, you don’t know what is a Volnay’,’ he says. ‘It’s one of the best places of the appellation.’

With a sunny, eastern exposure this is one of the first vineyards to be picked.

‘I love energy in the wine,’ said Fred. ‘I don’t want it to be flabby. It’s very bright. I love the complexity of Les Caillerets.’ 

Some tasters, sadly, found their sample slightly oxidised. But for others (including this journalist) this was the star wine of the tasting.

Beaune-Greves, Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus 2016, 1er cru

£55 ex VAT, JE Fells

From the middle of the slope, in the best part of Beaune Greves, this is reckoned to be ‘the filet mignon of the Greves appellation’. The name comes from the 17th century, when Louis XIII and his wife were struggling to conceive. But a nun in Beaune predicted that the couple would have a baby, and a few months later Louis XIV was born. A wooden statue of a suitably cherubic baby adorns the vineyard, which the family bought in 1791. 

Spring frost saw some growers lose 60% of their crop in 2016, making for a very concentrated vintage, with plenty of fruit but also acidity.

‘It was challenging in the vineyard, but a surprise during vinification,’ said Fred, who described it as ‘very classical – beautiful structure and fruit – the purity of each terroir is huge. 2015 was a very sunny year, so all the wines are very ripe, but 2016 is more precise.’

The Enfant Jesus wines, he says, are marked out by their enormous ageing potential and flavours of forest floor, licorice and, particularly, mint which carries on all the way through the ageing. 2009, 2010 and 2015 he says are all showing really well. 

Le Corton 2016, Grand Cru

£81 ex VAT, JE Fells

Our first Grand Cru of the tasting, this wine comes from the top of the hill of Corton, 300m above sea level, with an eastern exposure. Cooler and fresher, thanks to its being in the northerly wind, this is a wine that matures two weeks later than Baby Jesus and Les Caillerets, and is usually the last to be harvested. 

There are 80cm of red clay, rich in iron which, Fred says, ‘brings a lot of power to the wine. It’s a true Corton.’ But still there is that bedrock of limestone, which is significant. 

‘It’s difficult for the vines to grow here,’ says Fred, ‘the yield is naturally low. A lot of people say that Corton is a powerful wine that needs long ageing, but not in this part. You have a higher proportion of limestone here and the wine is more delicate.’

Our tasters enjoyed this wine, and Fred’s suggestion that it could work with Japanese fish brought a slew of Asian food-inspired suggestions, from Peking duck and smoked yakitori eel to tuna tataki.

The Whites

Beaune du Chateau Blanc 2017, 1er cru

Moving (as is the way in Burgundy) onto the whites after the reds saw us start with this multi-vineyard blend of premier cru vineyards. 

Described by Frederic as a vintage with lots of sun but not too much heat, 2017 had hearteningly normal yields, and ‘good expression and concentration’. The whites, he said had the [fruit] maturity of the 2015, but with a little more acidity – like 2014. 

First made in 1907, the Beaune du Chateau is put together from five different premier crus, vinified separately and then blended so it tends to have good consistency and reliability and less vintage variation. 

£21 ex VAT, JE Fells

‘The style of Beaune is between Meursault and Puligny,’ said Frederic. ‘You have white flowers on the nose – acacia, hawthorn – then on the finish there’s more acidity and a citrus and roses note, like in Puligny. Beaune is always more generous.’

All the wine sees oak, but just 12% of it is new.

Meursault Les Genevrieres 2016, 1er cru.

This Meursault comes from two very different plots. One (with brown soil) gives flavours of white flowers, almonds and honey, described by Frederic as ‘a true Genevrieres.’ The second (higher) plot has more limestone in the soil, and there is more acidity and citrus zest as a result. 

‘When I blend them together it’s not a classical Genevrieres,’ says Frederic. ‘It’s more delicate, with a citrus note’. The rich, toasty notes, he said, come from the terroir, not from the oak. ‘It’s a characteristic of Les Genevrieres to have grilled almond flavours,’ he said.

Harry Cooper found ‘creamy, nutty, peaches’ while for Marisol Suarez it was all about ‘stone fruits’.

In Burgundy, Frederic said that these wines are opened as an aperitif, then left on the table for consumption with cheese, at a slightly warmer temperature. ‘With Brillat Savarin it’s really beautiful,’ he said. 

£52 ex VAT, JE Fells

Our tasters saw uses for it with fish in creamy sauce, while Vitaly from Zuma said it would work with blackened cod.

Corton-Charlemagne 2016, Grand Cru

The first of two Grand Cru whites to finish, this comes from a 4ha plot just above the red wine vineyards. Yet the soils for the two wines are totally different: red clay rich in iron for the red wines, yellow marl with limestone bedrock for the Chardonnay. 

‘It’s a very powerful wine with a lot of salinity and minerality,’ said Frederic – something our tasters certainly agreed with.

Fred suggested cellaring this for at least five or six years. ‘Corton is like Montrachet or Clos Vougeot,’ he said. ‘It needs time to give a perfect expression.’ As if to prove this, Fred’s favourite vintage is the 1955!

‘Whenever I make a wine, I want to do what my predecessors did and make a wine with a long future,’ he said.

£112 ex VAT, JE Fells

Certainly, if you like minerality this is a wine for you. There were lots of approving comments from the tasters about the wine’s salinity.

Chevalier-Montrachet 2015, Grand Cru

From a warm vintage with ‘perfect conditions’ and northerly winds providing freshness, Fred described this as an ‘easy to understand vintage and pleasurable.’

Though, interestingly, he also said that ‘with all grand cru wines you’ll see the terroir is more important than the vintage.’ 

With 2.5 hectares, Bouchard are the biggest land owners in Chevalier-Montrachet but for Frederic the most important factor is that they own vines on ‘all four terraces’. 

The lowest, flattest terrace gives big, generous wines with some Riesling-like notes; the second terrace in the middle of the slope is more limestone rich (’it’s my favourite place – a true Chevalier with more delicacy – like the zest when you peel a tangerine’), while the third and fourth terraces are higher with poorer soils and more ‘focus, minerality, acidity on the finish and some saltiness’. 

£207 ex VAT, JE Fells

The wines are vinified separately then blended together after barrel ageing. Fred’s tips for his favourite Chevalier-Montrachet vintages of the last ten years are 2012 and 2016.

Questions from the Sommelier Collective Members

What is the difference between Chevalier-Montrachet and Le Montrachet?

Le Montrachet is more at the bottom of the slope, more clay and white marl, whereas Chevalier is marl and then limestone. Le Montrachet whites are more closed at first. They  become more powerful than Chevalier whites, but need to age a long time before you can appreciate them. Chevalier is more open and delicate with citrus zest and white flowers – it’s easier to get pleasure from a young version.

How are you being affected by global warming?

I’ve got the dates of all harvests since 1731. In the 18th and 19th century they sometimes harvested at the end of September, but more commonly in October. Today we harvest at the beginning of September or, more and more, at the end of August. So we are one month earlier. 

We are also seeing more difficult weather events like frost and hail. In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 we lost the equivalent of two years’ worth of crop.

Fog and snow might be common in Burgundy…
But the region is seeing more extreme weather events too

Is the region over its premox problems?

In the past a lot of producers were touched by that, but we’ve worked a lot against this phenomenon. We’ve changed things in the vineyard, but also in vinification. In the past I think we wanted to protect the must too much, but it’s important to prepare the wine for the future. 

A small oxidation is normal and necessary at the beginning [of the winemaking process]. After that we do a long élevage, with a lot of lees, because lees protects the wine. Since 2005 we’ve had no problem with premox.

Lees work helps with premox

Should you decant Burgundy?

Young Burgundy can be decanted one hour before serving. Though after ten years I prefer to avoid doing it because you miss some of the complexity of the aromas.

Are all your vineyards old vines?

It’s important that we have some young vines for the colour, and some older vines 70-80 years old for the character, density and purity of the terroir. But it’s important in each plot to maintain both. We replant about two hectares a year. It’s an important investment for the future.

From the Clos de la Mousse (bought in 1872) to the stunning
Chateau de Beaune there is a lot of old history at Bouchard

How is 2020 looking?

It was a very warm vintage. For the first time in the history of Bouchard we started harvest on the 18th of August. We were worried about the temperatures and the drought, but in spite of that the whites are very classic. It reminds me of 2008 or 2014, with beautiful freshness and good expression.

Which wines are you most proud of?

I love Les Caillerets and Baby Jesus for the red wines; for the whites I’m a big fan of Chevalier Montrachet.

Watch the video

Discovery Tasting: Bouchard

29 March, 2021 @ 4:00 pm 5:00 pm BST

Founded in 1731 in Beaune by Michel Bouchard, Bouchard Père & Fils is one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy, perpetuating tradition for nearly three centuries and nine generations.

Bouchard Père et Fils is one of Burgundy’s best known producers and major landowners on the Côte d’Or. Join winemaker Fédéric Weber and export director Europe Cyrille Harmel on a journey through the historic vineyards of one of the world’s most prestigious winegrowing regions.

From Beaune to Volnay, Le Corton to Chavalier Montrachet you will have the chance to taste wines dating back to 2014 from the best crus and monopoles from these famous slopes

This tasting will offer members an insight into Bouchard’s unique Burgundy heritage, tasting some of the domain’s most emblematic wines, including the famous Beaune Grèves Vignes de l’Enfant Jésus, Volnay “Les Caillerets” and Corton-Charlemagne; names which resonate with history. The tasting will also allow an opportunity to taste the Meursault Genevrières, offering a glimpse into Bouchard’s vineyard holdings where they are the largest owners of vineyards in Meursault and will culminate with the exceptional Chevalier-Montrachet 2015, of which Bouchard owns 31% of the appellation.

Discovery Tasting: A Journey Through Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

Wines to be tasted:

  1. Beaune Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru Monopole 2015
  2. Beaune-Grèves Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus Premier Cru Domaine 2014
  3. Volnay Les Caillerets “Ancienne Cuvée Carnot” Premier Cru Domaine 2015
  4. Le Corton Grand Cru Domaine 2016
  5. Beaune du Château Blanc Premier Cru Domaine 2017
  6. Meursault Genevrières Premier Cru Domaine 2016
  7. Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru Domaine 2016
  8. Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru Domaine 2015

Hosted by

  • Frédéric Weber – Winemaker at Bouchard Père & Fils
  • Cyrille Harmel – Export Director Europe at Maisons & Domaines Henriot
  • Chris Losh – Co-founder of The Sommelier Collective

RSVP Discovery Tasting: Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils

Delivery details for tasting samples


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Discovery Tasting: Catena

Stones, Bones and Desert Sunshine

The darkness of a north-European winter makes most of us dream of sunshine. So this week’s Sommelier Collective Discovery tasting of Catena’s wines from its showcase Adrianna vineyard was a delight on every level.

It was a chance not just to taste some seriously ambitious wines explained to us by the people in charge of growing and making them, but to actually see some of Catena’s vineyards and iconic Piramide winery.

And if the Collective’s members were a little jealous of the clear blue spring sky and birdsong behind head viticulturalist Belen Iacono’s shoulder they managed not to show it.

In truth, Belen was not in the actual vineyard that gave birth to the wines we were trying. The Adrianna vineyard has many things in its favour – multiple soil types, a high altitude and a cool climate being three of them – but good wi-fi is beyond it.

This perhaps isn’t surprising. As recently as 1990, when Dr Nicolas Catena began planting there, it didn’t even have a road.

Recognised as one of the pioneers of modern Argentinian winemaking, Dr Catena went (literally) off the beaten track in search of a cooler climate.

Locals used to call Nicolas Catena ‘El Loco’ – the crazy man – because they didn’t think he’d be able to get grapes to ripen there.

According to Belen, Adrianna goes from Level 2 (think Bordeaux/Piedmont) to Level 1 (Niagara/Burgundy) on the Winkler scale.

Temperatures are moderate for Argentina – rarely over 34 degrees Celsius, which means the vines don’t shut down – and with the kind of diurnal shift you would expect from 1500m of altitude. Night-time temperatures drop to around 15 degrees, giving the vines plenty of time to recover their poise for another day basking in the endless sunshine.

The Adrianna vineyard is in Gualtallary, a part of the Valle de Uco, and soon to have its own officially designated appellation.

Gualtallary is essentially an ‘alluvial cone’ – the site of multiple rivers rushing from the Andes towards the sea. It makes for very mixed soils. Our tasters were trying wines from three different terroirs – often just a few metres apart.

Belen Iacono with tame chunk of limestone

The Whites

The White Bones Chardonnay came from soil with 40cm of loamy/sandy topsoil, then a big solid strip of limestone ‘like white concrete’ as winemaker Ernesto Bajda put it. Belen kindly held up a chunk of limestone larger than her head to prove the point. Because it holds water, the White Bones vines naturally produce more fruit and take longer to ripen

By contrast, the White Stones came from soils full of round rocks that have rolled down from the river. There is still a limestone influence to the soil, but it’s very poor and drains easily. Because of this, the plants are fighting for all the nutrients (and water) they can get. Crops are naturally small and, as a result, the fruit ripens earlier and more easily.

‘Stones is our Corton, and Bones is our Chablis,’ said Ernesto.

Collective members Jan Van Heesvelde (L’Enclume), Klearhos Kanellakis (Trivet) and Paul Robineau (110 de Taillevent) all found ‘herbal’ or ‘Mediterranean’ notes in the White Bones, while the latter spoke for many when he said the White Stones showed ‘more citrus notes’.

Winemaking-wise, it’s very much a hands-off approach. Both are barrel-fermented, but the casks are two, three and four years old; the oak influence is dialled back.

The biggest aim in these wines is to show the parcel. Chardonnay is just the messenger

Ernesto Bajda
Ernesto Bajda, winemaker

‘The point is to show the uniqueness of the two parcels, which are just 50m apart – and the effect of what I call a cool climate high altitude desert.

‘As a winemaker, my only goal is to preserve that potential and translate it as purely as possible.’

He’s doing a pretty good job. When our tasters were asked to pick a favourite, the two wines were split 50/50 with the same number of votes.

The Reds

For the reds our tasters were presented with three Malbecs. But anyone thinking they knew what Argentine Malbec tasted like was in for a surprise.

‘It’s so great to see three Malbecs that couldn’t be more different from each other,’ commented Collective member Rui Paulo Pereira from the Royal Cavalry and Guards Club. ‘I loved the restrained finesse of the wine.’

Again, these were from different soil types.

The River Stones Malbec came from a similar soil to the White Stones Chardonnay: round river stones and poor, well-drained soil, but a relatively warm, north-facing vineyard.

The neighbouring Fortuna Terrae Malbec was also from north-facing vines, but here they were planted in a former creek that’s been filled in by wind-blown soil. Described as an ‘oasis in the desert’, the plants here are always greener and ‘happier’ according to Belen. Clusters are bigger and the fruit less quintessentially concentrated.

We find lots of violet – an important descriptor for high-altitude Malbec.

Ernesto Bajda

The final Malbec was the Mundus Bacillus Terrae (so named because of some helpful microbes in the soil). It came from the same soil type as the White Bones Chrdonnay : 40cm of topsoil, then big chunks of limestone.

‘We do play a bit with the winemaking here,’ admitted Ernesto. Mid-way through fermentation, the team press off some of the wine and allow it to finish fermenting off skins in concrete, as though it were a white.

‘It’s an amazingly beautiful Malbec,’ said Ernesto. ‘Don’t expect a big new-world strong wine full of body and oak. It’s more similar to Pinot from limestone soils in the old world. This wine burns the books, and we don’t mind.’

Neither did our tasters. The wine was the star of a tasting full of surprises.

‘Blind taste these wines and you’d hardly describe them as Malbec,’ said Ernesto. ‘The variety is in our DNA, but here it is just a messenger…’


For the whites, it was remarkable to see how two wines treated very similarly in the winery and from parcels just 50m apart in this cool climate, high altitude desert could be so wildly different!

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard White Stones Chardonnay 2018

Harvested 2-3 weeks before the ‘Bones’ this shows a wonderful freshness and vibrancy with lots of lemon and lime citrus notes. The oak used is very subtle but adds to the complexity. There are hints of tropical fruit, particularly pineapple, and a pronounced chalky minerality; a touch of salinity brought together by a racy acidity.

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard White Bones Chardonnay 2018

This shows wonderful complexity, starting with flavours and aromas of lemon cheesecake and lemon curd and a wonderful herbaceous quality reminiscent of Herbes de Provence. Like with the Stones it maintains a zippy acidity and an almost wet gravel minerality. An absolute masterpiece of high-altitude white wine making.

The three Malbecs were a world away from most Malbecs I have tasted. I didn’t realise the variety had the potential to be this elegant!

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec 2017

This entry to the Adrianna range showed lots of deep black fruit like black plum and blackberry. The oak was beautifully integrated with flavours of chocolate, tobacco and a little sweet vanilla. There was a delicate violet florality and a slightly green finish.

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard River Stones Malbec 2017

Similar in style to the Fortuna Terra, but not as bright and fruit forward. It began with flavours of cherry compote, blueberry and blackberry, the subtle oak offering aromas of chocolate and leather.

Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec 2017

Wow! This wine’s reputation precedes it – and rightly so. With flavours of cassis, chocolate, coconut and tobacco, a fantastic minerality and delicate lavender and violet florality, this is a Malbec like no other. On the one hand, complex and powerful, on the other restrained, finessed and elegant. By far and away the finest Malbec I have ever tasted. Would love to see how it ages.

Star wine: Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae

As voted for by The Sommelier Collective members that attended the tasting.

Tasting sheets to download

UK importer: Bibendum – contact your account manager

Discovery Tasting: Opus One

A tasting of one of California’s most famous wineries, presented by winemaker Michael Silacci was a special treat for the Collective’s members

Last week saw 30 lucky Sommelier Collective members log on for a one-hour masterclass with Opus One winemaker and head of viticulture, Michael Silacci.

As one of California’s most-established A-List wines, it was no surprise that we were heavily oversubscribed for  the event – and a further 20 members were keen enough to watch even without having access to the tasting samples.

Opus One was created by the coming together in 1978 of Baron Philippe de Rothschild (of Mouton Rothschild fame) and Robert Mondavi, probably the most important figure in modern Californian winemaking.

At a meeting at the Baron’s chateau in Bordeaux, it took these two wine world titans just one hour to outline the principles of Opus One.

  1. It should be a red wine made from Bordeaux varieties
  2. It should be a wine that people want to share with their friends and family
  3. It should be a place that people leave in better shape than they found it

The latter point is key. ‘Sustainability,’ as Michael Silacci put it, ‘is really ingrained into our system.’

The winemaker has even held off planting a six hectare plot near the winery because he wants to get every single element of the planting perfect: the trellising, the rootstocks, the row orientation – because he wants to be absolutely certain that the vines will still be around in 100 years’ time.

It’s a winery, in other words, where the long-term future is important, but that is still underpinned by an unshakeable ethos founded 40 years ago.

‘A journalist once asked me “who do you make wine for – Robert Parker? James Laube?”’ said Michael. ‘I said “I make wine for two people who aren’t alive anymore: Baron Philippe and Robert Mondavi.” My whole goal is to make a wine that gives you a sense of where it comes from.’

From To Kalon with love

For Opus One, that means 70 hectares of vineyard in Oakville, Napa Valley. The majority of the vines are in the hallowed To Kalon vineyards – reckoned to be the best site in Napa.

The winery experimented with biodynamism but rowed back on that because they felt it made the vines too vigorous. They still make preparations, however, which they use for compost.

Two of the last four years have been affected by wildfires. 2017, according to Michael, looked worse than it was since they had 90% of the crop picked before the fires arrived.

But 2020 could potentially be more awkward. The fires started in August and ran through the latter end of the growing season, though there was less smoke than in 2017.

‘It was long-time, low-impact,’ said Michael.

To safeguard against smoke taint, the team changed their growing philosophy of co-fermenting different varieties. Instead, they went back to picking, vinifying and (soon) ageing every block separately. Pressing was very gentle.

‘I’ll tell you what we have in 18 months,’ said Michael.


The Discovery tasting included four vintages of Opus One and the current release of the Second Wine, Overture.

Opus One 2007

This was the year Michael had chosen to make the switch to full-on dry farming. ‘I wanted to encourage the vines to give a stronger expression of place, and I felt they could do that if the roots were down deeper,’ he said.

A warm, dry year made this difficult. And with plenty of Californian heat at play, Michael was keen to get some more Petit Verdot in the blend. The question was, how?

‘When we blended Cabernet and Petit Verdot as wine, it was like a dog meeting a cat in the street – they’d fight. Too aggressive, too harsh, too tannic.’

Then the answer came to him at 3am: co-fermentation.

‘It worked wonders,’ he said. ‘There was such an incredible harmony – and the layers were quite different. It was like kittens with puppies. They grew up loving each other, and this harmony came from there.’

Until 2020 (as explained above) they have co-fermented every year since.

Despite its age, Michael still sees plenty of ripe fruit – ‘baby fat’ as he calls it – in this wine.

Opus One 2011

California might be known for its sun – but not in 2011. It was a very cool, wet year.

‘We had learned so much from 2010 which was cool, but not as wet,’ says Michael. ‘We always tend to pick a bit earlier than others, and we learned from 2010 that we could go in early and capture a lot of the fresh fruit characteristics.’

Opus One is a very Cabernet-focused Bordeaux blend. And though it is never varietally labelled, this is the only vintage that did not have sufficient Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend (just 71%) that it could have been. The remainder is made up with 11% Merlot, 9% Petit verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

Stylistically, this wine was a lot more herbal, restrained and – for want of a better word – European. No surprise, perhaps that it came out top in our poll of tasters.

‘In the States, this vintage wasn’t really appreciated for what it is,’ said Michael. ‘I love the elegance of this wine – the silky texture – and it’s different.’

As a crib for blind-tasters, Michael says he can pick out ‘the fresh stems of red roses’ in both the 2007 and the 2011 before he swirls the glass.

Opus One 2015

From a warmer vintage, Michael and his team probably picked a few days later than they wanted to – by which time they were in the middle of a heat spike. As a result, they had to do a lot of ‘cherry-picking’ through the vineyards.

‘When we made the blend in January of 2016 I thought it was too intense,’ says Michael. ‘If it were a painting it would be like a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh – just exploding!’

After 18 months in barrel, that intensity was still there, and the team felt the need to calm the wine down a little, so began adding in small amounts of less exuberant wine originally destined for Overture.

Stylistically Michael still says he finds it closer to the warm-year characteristics of 2007.

Opus One 2016

Michael began a programme of isolating wild yeasts in the vineyard in 2012, on the premise that it increases the sense of place in the wine. It was a long process. They began by finding 50 yeasts from the vineyards, narrowing that down to 35, then 15 and finally six which they liked the most and sent off for analysis.

The lab results were surprising.

‘We found we had three wolves, two coyotes and a dog,’ says Michael wryly. ‘The wolves being the wild yeasts, the coyotes being [semi-wild] yeasts that had certain genetic connections to commercial yeasts, and the dog was a [domesticated] commercial yeast from the Rhone.’

This was the first wine to be made with over 50% of wild yeasts. Current vintages are 100% wild yeast fermented. But what does this process bring to the actual wine?

‘The aromas are different,’ explains Michael. ‘They can be a little more earthy. But the mouthfeel is what I like. When we blend, that’s what we’re looking for, and I love the way [wild yeast] adds little nuances and layers of complexity. The aromas will always come around.’

Of the four Opus One wines on show here, this is the one that Michael felt best captured his grape-growing and winemaking philosophy. Perhaps because of the wild yeast element.

Overture 2020 release

Technically, Overture is, indeed, a second wine in that it comes from the same estate as the main wine. But its philosophy is quite different since it’s a multi-vintage blend, typically of three vintages. The current release is made up of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

‘If Opus is an expression of time over place, Overture is an expression of place over time because the seasons get muted out somewhat and you really see the place coming through more,’ says Michael. ‘The theory is that Overture is the wine that you drink while you’re waiting for Opus, but I’ve always found it to be a good candidate for ageing as well.’

Certainly, it was popular with our tasters, with bright fruit, powdery tannins and a few more years of ageing. Several commented on its relative affordability, too, for venues that might struggle to sell the grand vin.

I don’t make wine for Robert Parker or James Laube. I make wine for two people who aren’t alive anymore: Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi

Michael Silacci

Members’ Q&A With Michael Silacci

There were too many members’ questions to include all of them here (sorry!).  But we’ve picked out a few of our favourites.

Do you get frustrated making just two wines? (Alexia Gallouet, Gymkhana)

I was making 17 wines at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars! I’ve always wanted to make a white wine at Opus. I’ve brought that idea up two or three times a year for 20 years and it hasn’t gone anywhere. But there’s so much going on with our five varieties and in the vineyard… there’s plenty of opportunity when you’re just making one wine.

Has your oak use changed? (Paul Robineau, 110 de Taillevent)

It’s been evolving over time. The barrel is a pedestal on which we support the wine. It needs to support the wine not mask it.

How do you think the 2007 and 2011 vintages will age and when does Opus One start to show its full potential? (Louise Gordon, Heckfield Place Hotel)

The general consensus is that the 2011 will not age as well as the 2007. But 1979 and 1980 are still ageing well and they were both picked earlier. I still get a lot of ‘baby fat’ on the 2007 – a lot of ripe fruit, and that has yet to fade away.

Regarding full potential: there’s a really nice window between 12 and 17 years. After 9 or 10 years they start to go into the tertiary stage.

You mentioned you use biochar in the vineyards. What does it achieve? (George Doyle, Fhior)

You put it near the root zone and it facilitates water uptake. [Because we dry farm] my hope is that it will help the vines out a bit.

What are your favourite vintages of Opus One? (Milena de Waele, Birley Club)

2010 without hesitation. It was the most challenging vintage I’ve ever been through. It was like being in a wrestling match with Mother Nature, trying to channel whatever she sent our way and turn it into something positive.

We stumbled on ripeness three weeks before we thought it would be ripe. It’s my all-time favourite. Though 1980, 1987, 1991 and 1995 are wines I like very much that I had nothing to do with.

Star wine: Opus One 2011

As voted for by The Sommelier Collective members that attended the tasting.

Tasting sheets to download

UK importer

The Opus One wines are available either through Waddesdon Wines or Bibendum. For further detailed information, contact European Export Manager, Charlie Matthews on +33 643 06 45 41; charlie.matthews@opusonewinery.com

Discovery Tasting: Symington

The UK might be back to being shut in its houses and apartments again, and travel might be off the agenda. But our latest Discovery Tasting with Symington Family Estates provided an escape in both place and time.

Fifth generation family member, Anthony Symington, showed off a stunning range of ports and table wines that transported our lucky tasters not just from Lockdown Britain to the unmatchable beauty of the Douro, but back through the decades as well.

The Symington Family have been making ports in this part of northern Portugal for over 150 years, and with 26 quintas (estates) in the valley, are the biggest producer of premium port in the region. Every sommelier will be familiar with the great names of their portfolio: Dows, Warres and Grahams, plus the Douro’s ‘first first growth’ Quinta do Vesuvio.

But the tasting began with a couple of table wines, with Symington showing off their top wine, Chryseia, and its second wine, Post Scriptum, made in association with Bruno Prats, former director of Cos d’Estournel.

In fact, the latter is the reason why the wines were ever created. Visiting the family as a fellow member of the Primum Familiae Vini, he took a look at the Douro and asked bluntly, ‘why don’t you make red wine here? You’re crazy! You have this incredible unique terroir and varieties that aren’t used anywhere else.’

The two families teamed up to make Prats + Symington in 1999 and have been making Chryseia in the best years ever since, and Post Scriptum in the others.

The wines come from the Quinta de Roriz vineyard, which is the site of an old tin mine, and has an incredibly high mineral content.

‘You can taste this in these two wines,’ said Anthony. ‘Obviously they are Douro in style, but they have a fresh, graphite minerality running through them. From 5-10 years old it still has youthful fruit, but from 10-14 years it gets more secondary characteristics.’

Our tasters sampled the 2015, which is now starting to show really well and clearly has many decades ahead of it.

From here it was on to Port. All of the wines were from Grahams which celebrated its 200th anniversary this year. Though Covid scuppered any actual celebrations.

First up our tasters had a real treat with two single-vintage tawnies (aka colheitas), from two of the best port vintages of the last century: 1963 and 1994.

‘A colheita is a snapshot in time,’ said Anthony. ‘We don’t release the wines to coincide with an anniversary – just where we feel they are showing incredibly well.’

The ‘snapshot in time’ was particularly poignant for the older of the two. Not only were none of our tasters or panellists born in 1963 but the Douro was still incredibly isolated – a rural backwater six hours from Porto, with sporadic electricity. It was a wine with a finish that was measured in hours.

Yet the star for most tasters was the 1994. At 26 years old, it was at what many observers consider the peak age for tawny port. Food matches flooded in for these wines, from myriad desserts and cigar styles to beer-battered oysters.

They’re clearly a really useful style for restaurants, since once opened they can last happily for a month, so there’s little pressure on teams to sell them fast.

Speed of sell-through is more of an issue for bottle-aged ports, such as our final two vintages. But Anthony suggested three really great tips.

Three sell-through tips

  1. Decant the bottle on a Friday and sell it as a ‘special’ throughout the weekend – vintage port is fine for three days.
  2. Take advantage of their ‘half bottle’ presentation set, which features 37.5cl of vintage port, a decanter and a wooden presentation board. ‘It can sit on a list around £35 or £15 a glass.’
  3. Employ a Coravin using the same process as for ordinary table wine. ‘There’s no need to decant in advance. When you start getting near the bottom of the bottle sediment can sometimes partially block the needle but simply moving the bottle slightly dislodges this. When you near the end of the bottle you can decant the remaining few glasses out.’

Interestingly, Anthony also suggested that the traditional ‘Stilton’ match might need a rethink.

‘The older ports are more delicate wines,’he  said. ‘I don’t think you’d want a blue cheese with them, even though that’s the tradition in the UK. We often have it with a creamy sheep’s cheese.’

While the magnificence of the 1983 Grahams was not a surprise – it’s a top port from a great year – the quality of the Quinta do Malvedos raised eyebrows – particularly for the price. Though this wine is made to be drunk slightly younger (and really starts to drink well from ten years old) some tasters had examples from the millennium which they said were still fantastic.

All in all, it was a spectacular tasting of myriad wine styles, united only by their age and excellence. After all, how often do you get to taste six wines with a combined age of 150 years?

Star wine

As voted for by The Sommelier Collective members that attended the tasting.

Tasting sheets to download