Top wines of 2019 (that I paid for)

As an emerging wine journalist with an OK-ish reputation, many of the wines I try or drink aren’t paid for by me. I get sent samples and I’m received by wineries across the globe, and I’m very lucky to have largely free access to interesting wine. I don’t take this for granted.

But relying on free wine can make you out of touch with your readers. It’s all very well if you get to smash a $300 rarity on a Tuesday evening, but how would you feel about the same wine if you’d had to pay for it?

Ultimately, I’m a wine geek, and I love wine, and I spend too much money on wine. So I thought for my 2019 round up of top wines, it would be useful to restrict the list to wines I’d actually paid for, either bought from a retail outlet, or drunk at a restaurant (where I was paying the bill, or my fair share of the bill). I’ve tried to include the details of where the wine came from, although in a couple of cases the month might be out by a little. So here’s my Top 16 Wines I Paid For, 2019

Jamet Côte-Rôtie 1999 Northern Rhône, France
Bought en primeur back in 2001. This is amazing. Sweetly aromatic with bonfire, charcoal, a hint of menthol, some roast meat and sweet black cherry fruit. The palate is pure, elegant and refined with a mineral streak under the black fruits. There’s amazing harmony here, with some iodine and fine herb complexity, and the fruit and savouriness working together well. 97/100

Wachter-Wiesler Blaufrankisch Alte Reben Eisenberg 2014 Burgenland, Austria
This was bought at Newcomer Wine in March. From green slate in the south of the region. Dense fruit here with black cherries, spice, taut raspberry notes and good structure. Focused and fresh with good acidity. Youthful, sappy and detailed, this is quite delicious. 95/100

Ladredo 2008 Ribera Sacra, Spain
Bought from the Good Wine Shop in Kew. The Ribera Sacra collaboration between Raul Perez and Dirk Niepoort, with some bottle age. Lovely stuff: elegant, fine, with black pepper, black cherries and lovely silky texture. Fine with good acidity and real drinkability. 96/100

Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 30 2015 Northern Rhône, France
Purchased at Vinoteca, in March. This is fabulous, with lovely black cherry fruit, floral perfume and some black pepper and charcoal notes, as well as tar and herbs. Has sleekness but also freshness. Essence of Syrah! 94/100

Ganevat Cuvée Marguerite 2014 Jura, France (magnum)
Purchased at 67 Pall Mall in May. This is an ancient massale selection of Melon à Queue Rouge, with centenarian vines. Complex, mealy and crystalline with lovely lemony core and astonishing complexity and intensity. Lovely acidity with thrilling minerality and salinity. Pristine. 97/100

Domaine Jacques Carillon Puligny Montrachet 2011 Burgundy
Purchased from the list at 110 Des Taillevant, June. Very fine on the nose with a lovely mineral, matchstick character beautifully integrated into the citrus and pear fruit. Such tension and balance here: harmonious and poised. 95/100

Champagne Emmanuel Brochet Le Mont Benoit Extra Brut NV France
Bought in Reims. Emmanuel Brochet farms 2.5 hectares with an average vine age of 35 years, working organically. He began in 1997, and all his wines are pressed with a Cocquard basket press and then vinified in wood. This spends 11 months in wood, and is a blend of roughly equal parts of all the three main varieties. It is bottled with 20% reserve wine and spends two years on its lees, and then has 4 g/l dosage. This is very fine, with an expressive nose of almonds, toast, citrus and a touch of wax. The palate is fruity and fine with red cherries, lemons and some tangerine. Very pure and linear with amazing precision and a real energy. Thrilling. 96/100

Champagne Marie-Noelle Ledru Grand Cru Extra Brut Ambonnay NV France
From the list at Bocal in Reims in March. This is so complex, with cherry and cranberry notes from the Pinot Noir (85%) but then it morphs into bright citrus fruit, and a complex, precise finish. There is also some development and some oxidative hints. A thrilling wine that finishes with precision. 95/100

Champagne Remi Leroy Brut Nature NV France
Bought from Caves du Forum in March. The family have 9 hectares in the Aube on Portlandian limestone over Kimmeridgean limestone, and Remi has 3 hectares of these for his own lable, while they sell the rest. Most of the holdings (70%) are Pinot Noir. This wine is matured in 85% stainless steel, 15% oak, and then it spends three years on its lees. Disgorged May 2018, 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Delicate, vital and electric with lovely focused citrus and cherry fruit with very fine bready, toasty notes and keen acidity. The acid line is fresh and vital, with some salty, chalky notes and amazing presence. 95/100

Jacques Puffeney Arbois Cuvée Sacha NV France
Bought at Caves du Forum in Reims and drunk at Gezellig in August. This is a brilliant wine that I picked up in the fab Caves du Forum in Reims, and it’s a blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin. It’s aromatic and salty with lovely apple and pear fruit, with a delicate flor character that is perfectly integrated into the fruit. It’s a thrilling wine with nice tension, and the flor adds framing without dominating. 95/100

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Bought from a natural wine pop-up in Hawke’s Bay, NZ, in February. Sweet, ripe and textured with silky, fine strawberry and red cherry fruit. Such a seamless wine with fine grained structure and some herby notes. Lovely acid line, too. Very subtle green characters in the background bring out the fine fruitiness. 94/100 (Feb)

Pierre Gonon Saint-Joseph 2016 Northern Rhône, France
Bought at 10 Cases in March. This is a thrilling expression of Northern Rhône Syrah. I know Gonon is super-trendy now, but it deserves to be, and at £69 on the list this isn’t crazy expensive. Fresh and detailed with black cherries, plums, olives and meat. So floral and precise but also with nice grip and structure. Notes of blood and iron with nice precision. Essence of northern Rhône. 95/100

Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2016 Burgundy, France
Bought from Vessel, Victoria, June. 13% alcohol. Montmains, on the left bank, has a good proportion of clay in the soil, and makes richer wines with a resemblance to white Burgundy. This is a bold, complex wine with faint hints of cabbage and dried herbs. There’s lovely compact, bold fruit with toast, spice and pear fruit, with some white peach. It has a lovely mouthfeel, with many layers of flavour, showing hints of pith as well fine toast, and good acidity underpinning the rich fruit. This isn’t a steely, linear Chablis, but instead offers generosity and concentration, while retaining a good degree of precision. 94/100

Nichol Syrah Old Vines 2017 Naramata, Okanagan, Canada
Bought from the list at Frankie We Salute You in Kelowna, BC, Canada in June. This wine is made from 17 rows of Syrah that are the oldest plantings of this variety in Canada, dating back to 1990/91. Soils are granitic. Destemmed grapes were fermented in open-top two-ton fermenters and then basket pressed into neutral French oak. The resulting wine shows sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit with a savoury peppery edge and hints of roast meat and rosemary. Juicy and expressive with some tannic grip and nice acidity. A really lovely expression of cool climate Syrah that rates among the best reds from the region. 94/100

Emilio Hidalgo La Panesa NV Jerez, Spain
Bought off the list at El Marco restaurant in Jerez in June. 15% alcohol. Tangy and a bit salty with a hint of marmalade, some cheesy notes and real brightness. Complex with lovely balance and depth 94/100

Ube Las Vegas Carrascal Albarizo de Lentejuelas 2016 Jerez, Sherry
Bought at a restaurant in Sanlucar. 73% Palomino Fino, 16% Palomino de Jerez, 11% Palomino Pelusón. This is taut, saline and intense. It’s so fresh and precise with a mineral core. Spicy with some petrol hints and a bit of smoke, too. Primary, bracing and vivid with astonishing length and intensity. Textured, with a salty finish. 95/100

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