London Wine Fair 2008



Central Otago Pinot Noir
New wine regions don’t come any hotter than Central Otago. Way down in Lord of the Rings country in the south of the South Island of New Zealand, Central Otago has the potential to rival Burgundy for the quality of its Pinot Noirs.

The wines are a complete contrast to the subtle and delicate Marlborough Pinot Noirs. They are dark in colour, with a rich fruit character and lots of spice. The young wines are fruity without being jammy, and with bottle age rapidly develop a spicy maturity. The winemakers put this character down to the big temperature differences between day and night, and to the very strong ultra-violet radiation – Otago is under the Antarctic ‘hole in the ozone layer’.

Currently the only snag is that the oldest wines are about eight or nine years old, with new vineyards being planted every year. The wines show well on the nose and in the immediate attack, but most of them are rather green and hollow in the middle of the palate. The most advanced wine was in its sixth vintage - proudly stated on the front label. The depth and length of this wine were completely different to those in their first or second vintage. This will be remedied as the vines mature. I suspect that the longer term snag will be that the wines will start to attract very high prices!

L A Cetto – Baja California
Yes, that’s right – Mexico, just south of San Diego and Tijuana. The family have been making wines here since the 1920s, with plantings of international grapes. The wines are starting to appear in shops, notably Waitrose. They produce a wide range of entry level wines, but the more interesting ones are carry their premium Privada Reserva label. The most famous of these is the Nebbiolo, from a Barolo clone, which regularly wins prizes in Italy. Another very interesting varietal is Petite Sirah (the Durif of Southern France) which makes a wine structured like a Shiraz, but with more black fruits. There are also a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, both quite heavily oaked and needing more bottle age. The wines are under £10.


Texas Wines Coming to London
A pair of southern US vineyards were showing their wares today. Fall Creek is near Austin in Texas. I spoke to owner and winemaker Susan Auler, who told me that she expects to place her wines in the UK trade for next year, beginning with her Chenin Blanc. We will not, unfortunately, get any of the excellent Meritus 2004, a deep, rich Cabernet Sauvignon, which is almost sold out.

Unfortunately the winemaker of the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia had been called back to the US. This has been in operation near the tourist attraction of Colonial Williamsburg since 1985. Various Bordeaux blends are produced, with a distinctive leafy character.

Oregon Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is this year’s fashionable grape, with showings from many new areas. Oregon is one of the earlier cool regions to plant the grape, starting in the early 1970s.

In contrast to the the wines of Central Otago I tasted yesterday, the Oregon Pinots have a restrained fruit character, with a variety of aftertastes depending on the soil type. Those grown on volcanic soils have a warm, mineral character, while the vineyards on sandstone (only a few hundred metres away) have a lighter, flowery finish.

South America
The number of South American producers at the show expands year by year. Chile became a major exporter in the 1980s, and Argentina at the beginning of this century. Now the Brazilians and Uruguayans are forming up to take a share of the market.

Even three years ago, Uruguay was showing only old-style intensely hard Tannats, and a few clumsy commercial blends. Now there are winemakers who have learned to control the tannins and produce fruity and well-structured serious red wines which should sell well.

Brazil has further to go. Even the serious producers on the same latitude as Uruguay tend to have wines which owe more to the barrel than to the fruit. I suspect this is partly due to young vines, but they do not yet seem to have found a grape variety that suits their terroir.

Argentina continues to produce fine wines, particularly Malbec and Malbec blends. The wines from the southern Patagonia region (Neuquen and Rio Negro) are particularly good and becoming more widely available. They are more subtle than the wines from the warmer regions and show mineral and vegetal characteristics on the finish even when very young.


Greece and Turkey
Both Greece and Turkey had large stalls at the LIWF, showing a range of makers. Both are emphasising their native grapes, although they are also producing considerable quantities of wine wholly or mainly made from international varieties.

While Greece has been producing international quality wines for many years, the Turkish fine wine industry is in its infancy. Samples seen ranged up to good commercial in quality, but many of the wines lack intensity and interest. Turkey is, however, an area to watch with interest.

The Greek native varieties continue to show better for red wines than for white, apart from the excellent Assyrtikos from Santorini. In reds, the Agiorgikito wines produce full bodied, deep fruity wines, with Xinomavro making lighter wines in the northern regions. There was a top class old, sweet Mavrodaphne of Patras from Achaia Clauss.

A Chat with Chester Osborn
The D’Arenberg winemaker was back on form today, having suffered from a ‘dodgy prawn’ earlier in the week. As usual, he had several new wines to show, with the first releases from 2007 and the serious 2006s. Both were good vintages, 2007 being saved by an inch of rain just before the harvest was due to begin. In 2008, rain came a little later, after the main harvest, putting the sweet wines at risk.

Chester was showing his sparkling red Chambourcin, from a vineyard he planted on very poor soil a few years ago. This is very dry and acidic, with some aging potential. There were several new blends from vineyard acquisitions, generally in the Rhone style. In 2008, he is making a rose, but probably only for the Australian restaurant trade. This brings the number of bottlings to over thirty. There is a full list at

We are promised yet another change in the regulations for dated wine. The Vintage wines (from a single year, kept in barrel for at least 20 years, also called Frasquieras) will be called Reserve. The Colheita wines (from a single year, kept in barrel for at least 10 years) are likely to be labelled Vintage. This doesn’t change the fact that these wines are both excellent and expensive. My favourite, the 1958 Boal from D’Oliviera , retails at nearly £90, and the younger wines fetching between £30-40. Ten year old blends, about the minimum quality worth drinking, fetch about £17-20.