As usual, the run-up to Christmas was a prolonged period of pandemonium at work and so, by the time the holidays eventually arrived, all plans of elaborate meals and fine wines had been abandoned in favour of simpler family favourites. That’s not to say I didn’t open a couple of reasonable bottles, but only so I had something to write about, you understand.
Served with a pre-Christmas bird, a magnum of Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2009 (14.0% ABV) certainly helped me to start to unwind and to get into the spirit of the season. Youthfully deep ruby in colour, its well-defined legs lined my glass. Red cherry fruit and freshly ground coffee and cocoa aromas on the nose were rounded off with hints of cassia and clove spice that resulted in a gently medicinal character. At the fuller end of medium bodied, bright cherry fruit carried through to the palate complemented by a soft creaminess and gentle toastiness from the oak. Moderate tannins and firm acidity balanced the richness; the ground coffee and medicinal spice flavours lent a savoury note to the long finish. I’d have liked a touch less alcohol – there was a hint of warmth to the nose and to the finish – but I was probably being hyper critical as there was certainly no lack of poise and balance. Although the most junior ranking Pinot Noir in the Felton Road hierarchy, Bannockburn gives many premier cru Burgundies a run for their money in the quality stakes. Overall it was a very lovely wine, possibly a touch awkward as it was beginning to shrug off its youthful primary flavours, although it will be a delight to drink over the next three to five years as it matures.
The other noteworthy wine of the holidays was a bottle of Arnaldo Caprai’s Sagrantino Di Montefalco 25 Anni DOCG 1997 (13.5% ABV) from a case whose particularly badly cellar damaged labels meant that I picked it up for a great price at auction. Even at its full retail price this is a really undervalued wine; a well-cellared example from a great vintage at substantially less than half that price was my equivalent of wine auction catnip. Its still deep blood red colour was streaked with a tawniness of maturity on the rim. The nose was rich, effusive and savoury, displaying dark berry fruit, darkly roasted coffee and warm, wild herb scents. These same savoury coffee, wild herb and berry fruit flavours mingled with a gentle oak creaminess and offset the firm acidity and the meaty, chewy tannins. The long, savoury finish was smoky and a touch bitter, more liquorice and charcoal than fruit and spice. At fifteen years old this was just starting to dry out, but it was still a beautiful, harmonious and complex drink that certainly had a year or two in hand.
Sophisticated, elegant and supremely well crafted, Umbria’s often rustic Sagrantino was here sculpted into a truly great wine. Were this one of the bigger names in the canon of Italy’s wine grapes, I would normally eschew a modern and rather atypical style such as this in favour of its more traditional brethren. However, as with Malbec in Cahors or with Tannat in Madiran over the last ten or fifteen years, passion and unshakeable belief have been paired with skilful winemaking and judicious use of new oak to tame an unruly local variety whilst highlighting its world class potential. It is wine that I never fail to enjoy. This was no exception, and what better way to round off the holidays, and the year, with a bottle that undoubtedly ranked as one of 2012’s finest?
A merry Christmas to you, dear reader, and my very best wishes for a happy, healthy new year.