London International Wine Fair 2012 Portugal & Australia: a week of contrasts & some exceedingly fine wines

The sun always seems to come out for London International Wine Fair. Though the organisers may have preferred to have more stands and visitors, I didn’t miss being packed sardine-like on the Docklands Light Railway. It was a civilised show and one of contrasts, for me at least.

Take Portugal. I kicked off with Dirk Niepoort of Niepoort’s Port masterclass (pictured) – 1912 Colheita first thing on Tuesday – what a way to start the day (though ironically it was my least favourite vintage from a vertical last year – see here)! Vintage Port-wise, Dirk reckons the 2009s are the best he has made. I find the single vineyard Bioma 2009 totally entrancing (see an earlier write up here), though others preferred the classic 09, a blend of different vineyards.

The following day, I gratefully supped a glass of Mateus Rosé (The Original) with Sogrape’s head honcho, Salvador Guedes. The brand – a little drier these days – is 70 years old this year and it was just the ticket on a hot day! I was impressed, and by new launch Mateus Rosé Baga/Shiraz 2011 which, like Mateus Rosé Sparkling, is “delightfully dry.” Here’s hoping they bring Bairrada’s Baga grape a wider audience and help keep those old vines in the ground.

Turning to Australia, at Monday’s Real Wine Fair I encountered yet another great Yarra Valley Chardonnay, this one from Tom Belford (pictured). Richly textured and more savoury than fruity, his 2011 Bobar Chardonnay is aged on the lees (no sulphur) in one of just three old barriques – a teeny tiny production wine with a big heart.

Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian Wines took me firmly back into the mainstream but, as I mentioned in a recent blog, despite exchange rates and the rest, there’s still consistently excellent, great value but thoughtful drinking to be had from Down Under. A healthy chunk of the wines were £10-15, including favourites Jansz 2006 Sparkling wine, Tahbilk Marsanne, Pewsey Vale Riesling, Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier, Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling Pirie South Pinot Noir and McWilliam’s Hanwood Cabernet Sauvignon. You can see Juke’s complete list here.

At the other end of the price spectrum, Penfold’s Peter Gago showcased the latest releases from the Icon & Luxury Collection at a fast-paced masterclass at the fair. This year the particularly mineral, saline Yattarna (the 2009 vintage) stood out to me over the Reserve Bin10A Chardonnay 2010 with its now familiar renaissance Australian Chardy signature flinty cordite notes. Of the oh-so-polished reds, with their firm handshake tannins, imperious pair Grange 2007 & Bin 707 2009 were less forward than their predecessors, while the more slyphlike and elegant St Henri Shiraz 2008 and new release Bin 169 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 showed great fruity purity and poise.

Gago hosted a dinner last night, which gave me a second bite at the cherries which, on the hottest day of the year, were cooling their heels in canteen trays of ice (pictured, the last legal “Claret” label)! A glass of Bin 51 Eden Valley 2012, yep 2012, Riesling (deliciously limey and mineral) helped me regain my cool, before the big guns rolled out over dinner after an impressive line up of Cellar Selection current releases.

The big guns? First, a trio of Bin 389 (1986, 1996, 2006) which is 50 years old this year. The 86 was more forward and gamey than I’d expected (though complex and still very flavoursome) while my pick of the bunch, the 1996 – a powerhouse – will, I suspect, be in the game for longer. Next up Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon/Kalimna Shiraz 1962 (bottle pictured below), still wonderfully vigorous in its fruit, with bold earthy tertiary and dried fruit/panforte notes – no sign of the dropping ball yet.

And moving forward to two future classics Bin 620 Coonawarra Cabernet Shiraz 2008, the first since 1966, was released in Shanghai at $AUS 1000 a pop. Taut, tight, thus far quite closed, its fine but firm chassis and bright core of red and black fruits spells out COONAWARRA. Polished, polished, polished and pricey, pricey pricey! To be released in 2014, Bin 170 Kalimna Block 3C Shiraz (last released in 1973) similarly betrayed its Barossa roots, with lashings of black forest gateaux, tapenade, earth skilfully harnessed by savoury oak.

At the fair, I also caught up with Barossa Baron Dave Powell of Torbreck whose Barossa wines are fleshier, more sensual, if you like though, from the cool 2011 vintage, Woodcutters Semillon was impressively precise and persistent. It’s difficult to pick favourites from his reds but The Steading 2009 from a cracking Grenache vintage (for Powell the best yet) was possessed of a wonderful tannin structure, Woodcutters Shiraz 2010 showed great thick petalled perfume, fleshiness and freshness while The Pict 2009 is Mataro at its spicy, gamey, leathery, firm tannined unapologetic best. The Struie 2009 – a Barossa Valley/Eden Valley blend – showed elegant fluidity while Runrig 2009 – the first with no Viognier – was quite divine. Silky, perfumed and very complete already. Shame a bottle of The Laird 2006 was scalped, but I left happy!

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