• Alexander Smith

My wine discoveries of 2020!

I will have a separate post in the first week of January about my wine of the year, however, until then I will post my 'discoveries of 2020'. This year has been a quiet year for me due to the current pandemic, I have only tasted around 400 wines, which is way below my normal. I only made it out to California in February, and have been 'grounded' ever since. There are still a couple of weeks remaining so hopefully I will be able to taste through a few more wines.

So this year, a lot of focus has been on natural wines, whatever that might be ;) We might slowly be getting to a real definition, but for now, most are jumping on this new 'trend' producing very dull and boring wines. Does this mean all natural wines are boring? Absolutly not, there are some fantastic examples. However, for now I recommend readers do a significant amount of research before buying into the natural wine hype. I hope to have an article out in the coming weeks with my recommendations.

Some lowlights of the year include the fires in Napa, which nearly wiped out the town of St. Helena along with damaging the quality of the 2020 vintage. The COVID pandemic saw a price drop of up to 30% in the 2019 Bordeaux futures campaign(Maybe this is positive!). Critics who usually traveled to Bordeaux to taste the wines live, ended up tasting them via Zoom! Wine sales in general have been much slower with the closing of restaurants, in Quebec for example, I believe 40% of restaurants will close down by January.

I was lucky enough to experience the Premiere Napa Valley back in February before the world stopped moving. This was such a phenomenal experience and the only time of the year when drinking Cabernet at 9am in the morning is deemed acceptable.

Throughout the rest of the year, I have performed at home tastings along with buffering up my wine knowledge in preparation for my next big adventure (whenever that will be!)

So my discoveries of 2020 are as follows, in no certain order:

1) Le Vieux Pin - Syrah has never tasted so good, and from Canada, I am truly speechless.

Le Vieux Pin Syrah Équinoxe 2016 - 94 points. This is mindblowing good and it comes from B.C! The aromas are just divine, I could just enjoy the aromas all day with waves of violets, chocolate, blackberry, blackcurrant, leather, sage, tobacco, smoky notes. It has floral, fruit, and savory components, all complementing each other. The palate does not disappoint, this is full-bodied and whilst initially quite light and floral in texture, this builds as waves of dark fruit, bitter chocolate, fresh herbs, cracked black pepper and cacao take center stage, the tannins are finely integrated and fresh. The finish is focused and long. I don't know a Syrah from the new world this good, yup I am serious. I believe this will be better in 5-10 years.

2) Riesling - I went away from Riesling for too long. This year I was able to rediscover and drink some phenomenal examples from Germany to Australia. This is such an under-rated varietal and one I want to drink more of in the future.

Peter Lauer Feils Riesling Faß 13 Großes Gewächs 2018- 95 points. This is one of the best examples I have come across in Germany, with aromas of tropical fruit, lime juice, citrus peel, smoke and wet stones. the palate has this wonderful lush yet saline texture which refreshes the palate to another level. As the flavors develop the pineapple, citrus, wet stone, slate and even a slight tobacco side develop. This is not a relaxed and laid back Riesling, you are on the edge of your seat a rollercoaster maybe this has both tension and precision with a neat and slightly salty finish. Wow!

Hutton Vale Riesling 2018 - 94 points. Does this beat Germany Rieslings? I don't know but this is very close. This has notes of freshly squeezed lime, granny smith apple and a touch of fennel. the palate hits you like a car at 100 mph with freshness and mouth slapping acidity, so much focus with the fresh lime, citrus peel, crisp apple and wet stone. This has focus, energy and drive. Love it!

3) The 2018 Napa vintage. Critics have said 2016 will be the best vintage in over 20 years, and then came the 2018 vintage, is this better? Too early to say, but from what I have tasted I am very very excited.

Spottswoode PNV 2018 vintage - 97-100 points - Dark fruit, cassis, cacao, full-bodied and precise structure along with with velvety tannins, pronounced sweet spices and a long elegant finish. This is just class and elegance and how can I get just one bottle?

4) Cabernet Franc - How the grape which used to be laughed at in Bordeaux is now becoming one of the trendsetters due to climate change. Those who know me, know the wine I am talking about:

Château Canon-la-Gaffelière 2017 - 95 points - WOTN! I was not expecting to pick this wine as my No.1 among 80 other Bordeaux wines but I did. All other wines on display showed great balance and were well made, yet I feel they were missing that wow.

Then comes along Stephan von Neipperg, who kept smiling all evening knowing what little gem he had brought with him. I asked him why his wine was so different, then for 10 minutes he went on and on and on about how Cabernet Franc was the star of 2017 but no one was talking about it. It added not just a backbone but wonderful freshness and fruit purity. This wine was really on game, like really on the game, with notes of black fruit, violets, pepper, cassis and a little smoke, the palate was so fantastically structured and fresh with dark black fruit, crushed stones, black pepper and a little spice. The finish was long, elegant and precise. I am not buying any 2017 reds but this one is making me think again.

5) Natual wine - Ok fine, I will talk about Natural wine. It has made a big impact this year, but as of far, I am not a believer. Let me tell you why; There are no regulations, no rules, nothing, heck even Ménage à Trois could classify themselves as natural. So what is natural wine? Well that is the million dollar question. I will have a post up shortly to hopefully give a few guidelines on what I believe natural wines should be.

So even though 2020 has been a tough year for all in our industry, I know we will bounce back stronger in 2021. So I wish you all happy holidays and a healthy 2021. Drink good wine, because you know what? Life is too short for bad wine :)

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