I usually associate this time of year at The Brewery in Chiswell Street, EC1 with backslapping, self-referential, corporate award events or boozy 6 Nations rugby lunches – with a host of rugby legends telling humorous anecdotes from their storied past. Well there was certainly a lot of backslapping, booze and food in evidence last week at The Brewery but, on this occasion, it was for the 2019 Berkmann Portfolio Tasting.
There were 450+ wines from around 20 countries on show (including Argentina’s first Grüner Veltliner – WTF!) and, of course, new vintages of familiar favourites – especially from Berkmann’s stronghold of Italy.
It was impossible for me and my posse (Tim & Stefano) to taste everything but we gave it our best shot! Ultimately palate fatigue, sheer pressure of numbers of tasters, hunger and the end-of-play buzzer did for us. But Fuseblower gave a good account of itself and spent time on the wine trail doing the hard yards in Toscana, Piemonte, Puglia, Sicilia, Veneto, Basilicata, Rhône valley and Hungary so you don’t have to!
The whole event was a logistical triumph for Berkmann, from the abundance of excellent glassware, clear signage and logical wine groupings to the excellent lunch under the vigilance of Michelin-starred chef Merlin Labron-Johnson. Grazie Berkmann and a special shout out to Valeria Maffeis, on the Sales & Marketing team there, whose knowledge and passion for Italian wines knows no bounds. Complimenti Valeria
Like the drivers at the start of an endurance motor race, we three gentlemen were ready to start our engines and get sluicing some juice so it was to table Quarantanove we headed…
- Morellino di Scansano from Azienda Il Grillesino – such a wallop of cherry flavours it was like the essence of Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” (in a good way!)
- Lugana Caulliano (100%Turbiana) from Azienda Agricola Pratello in Lombardia – was all apple, peach and apricot with fabulous minerality.
- Garof Grumello Valtelina Superiore 2015 from Mamete Prevostini delivered persistent blackcurrant and strawberry flavours with plush velvety overtones.
- *SPOILER ALERT* The 2013 Riserva they produce is sublime and left me and the boys smiling from ear-to-ear. 100% Nebbiolo, 100% unadulterated joy!
We then moved on to the Barbera, Barolo and Barbaresco’s of Prunotto – which for the past 25 years have produced their wines under the auspices of the Antinori family and became a special focus of Antinori’s current President Albiera Antinori. All these wines are from personally-owned vineyards which allows them to exercise complete control over the final product from the get-go. The Prunotto wines are all delicate and well-structured, with refined tannins and sweet and luscious fruit. They are regular favourites of Wine Spectator and all the wines on show here really were in a class of their own. Standouts were the Barbera Bansella Nizza and the Barolo Bussia but frankly all the wines were extremely impressive and will certainly be on my radar in 2019. Special mention should also be made for the Bramasole, 100 Syrah (yes, truly!) from La Braccesca in Toscana. An outlandish twist on this popular grape variety. In Antinori’s hands it manages to combine plum, tobacco, spice, black pepper and hints of liquorice into an elegant package that transcends all your expectations of what a Syrah can be.
Keeping in the north of Italy we took in the exquisite dessert wines of Maculan – especially their Torcolato 2013. Made at the winery in Breganze from Vespaiola grapes this sticky delight is all honey, candied fruits and would make a perfect pairing with pastries, aged cheeses, like Asiago Stravecchio, or very strongly-flavoured blue cheeses (make mine a Roquefort!)
Venturing down to the heel of Italy we sought out the mighty Aglianico wine of Tormaresca – Bocca di Lupo 2013. It is a beast of a wine and I spotted it recently on the list of Macellaio Roberto Costa restaurants in London, where it is the perfect foil for their Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Shuffling over to Basilicata (a region, along with Calabria, that I tip for great things in 2019!). The Cantine del Notalo, Il Sigillo Aglianico del Vulture 2012 was simply stupendous. Rich and full bodied with tones of mulberry and dark fruit it is aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, stored in the ancient tufa caves of the Franciscan friars. Epic stuff I think you’ll agree. [Cosa é tufa? I’m pleased you asked. I defer to Wikipedia: “an umbrella-like canopy formed as a calcium-carbonate-saturated stream plunges over a cliff”] Infinitely more hipster than the barrel room at Ch Latour so next time you swoon over an Insta pic of this – with the suspended lights twinkling over the barriques – have a word with yourself, alright! A wine that will live with me for quite a while. Optimo!
Sicilia hove to on our starboard bow and we met with the charming Corrado Maurigi from Tasca, Conte D’Almerita (Tenuta Regaleali). Contes Alberto, Giuseppe and the Tasca family own 5 estates in Sicily (including one on the slopes of Etna) and a vineyard on the Aeolian island of Salina. We tasted 4 of their wines: a full-bodied and moreish Nero D’Avola; a zesty Bianco, which was a blend of Inzolia, Grecanico, Catarratto and Chardonnay grapes; a 100% Catarratto that is all citrus and grapefruit from vineyards at almost 1000m near Palermo; and finally Leone, a white with great balance, bouquet and acidity made from an exciting mix of grapes – Catarratto (58%), Pinot Blanc (16%), Sauvignon (15%) and Gewürztraminer (11%). Bonkers right? Like something Professor Branestawm would have concocted. But trust me it works! The Tasca D’Almerita wines are highly rated by James Suckling and Robert Parker, amongst others, I only wish they (and the other wines from this producer, including some truly grandi vigne!) were more readily available in the UK. Let’s hope with the support of Berkmann this happens soon!
Since February is Furmint month it seemed appropriate to check out the Hungarian station and Christian Sauska’s examples didn’t disappoint. His Furmint is a modern style Hungarian white wine, bursting with ripe stone fruit and melon with great minerality. The Tokaji is an unctuous, rich style of this famous wine, with a luxurious and lengthy finish.
Last, but certainly not least, we opted for some Rhône valley reds. Patrick Rigoulet of Ferraton Père & Fils took us through their breathtaking range of Grenache and Syrah wines which included: Crozes Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas, Gigondas, Hermitage and the beguiling Côte-Rôtie. This concern is a j-v with Michel Chapoutier and Damien Brisset, the chief winemaker, has created some fine examples of these appellations and terroirs and, as I say, the Côte-Rôtie L’Églantine is a superb wine full of finesse and well integrated oak, that has enticing aromas of black olive, violet, crushed red berries and spice. Unforgettable.
That’s a wrap!