With the autumnal weather as unpredictable as Richard Hemming’s dress sense, we gathered for our Mr Vine’s September panel tasting at Winemakers Club near the Holborn viaduct. A somewhat revered site as was the original Oddbins in a former life. So it was under the musty moody railway arches of this new-ish wine bar/shop/events space that we set about sampling a new batch of wines. Intriguingly four out of five of the winners were Italian, this time out. But each one different and dancing to its own beat.
First place: Luigi Maffini ‘Kratos’ Fiano 2014 (Campania, Italy; 13.0%; £14.50, WoodWinters)
Some say the white Fiano grape will be the next big thing in the UK, and classic examples like this one show why. It’s an intense and persistent wine, with no-nonsense apple, pear and apricot aromas and a herbal twang. Starts off subtle, but finishes with a fresh, dry, mineral edge and a burst of flavour. You could drink this all night and not get bored. 90 points.
NN verdict – Certainly worthy of the top spot.
Second place: Tenuta Mara ‘Maramia’ 2012 (Emilia-Romagna, Italy; 13.5%; £41, WoodWinters)
This is the first vintage from this ambitious new biodynamic estate. They only make one wine, and no expense is spared; they even serenade the Sangiovese vines with Mozart. Who knows if that makes any difference, but the care and effort the take really shows through; this is a genuinely fine wine that really speaks of its origin. Autumnal aromas like dried leaves and truffle spill from the glass, alongside red cherry and dark chocolate. It’s lively and tangy, robust yet refreshing, ethereal but long in flavour. It has a high price for sure, but this is delicious and has real substance and interest. 91 points.
NN verdict – Was totally enamored of this bonkers despite its higher price tag.
Third place: Luigi Maffini ‘Kleos’ Aglianico 2012 (Campania, Italy; 13.5%; £14.00, WoodWinters)
Another winner from expert winemaker Luigi Maffini, this time from the robust red Aglianico grape. It has baked blackberry, blueberry and stewed plum fruits inlaid with cigar tobacco and cinnamon. In the mouth it has real presence and texture; it’s full-bodied, savoury and very dry. It’s a big black bull of a wine that needs hearty food to be best appreciated. 89 points.
NN verdict – That Maffini was back and though not as interesting as his Fiano still a solid bronze.
Fourth place: Le Fonti Sangiovese 2012 (Tuscany, Italy; 13.0%; £9.89, Cadman Fine Wines)
There are two Sangioveses to bring to your attention this month; this one may not have the brilliance of the Tenuta Mara, but then it is less than a quarter of the price. It’s like a beginner’s guide to Italian Sangiovese – expressive cherry and herbal notes, crisp acidity and an elegant lightness of touch. Not the most concentrated, but it’s very decent for under a tenner. 87 points.
NN verdict – A bit out of balance for my palate, but the group thought it a solid showing.
Fifth place: Domaine Baron Sauvignon Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2014 (Loire, France; 12.5%; £8.99, Cadman Fine Wines)
Sauvignon Blanc can be samey, but this one from the Touraine is more luscious and interesting than the norm. It’s relatively ripe, fruity and opulent for a Loire Sauvignon – fans of New Zealand examples will get it immediately. Plenty of grapefruit and green pepper with a hint of smoke; not the most subtle, but very enjoyable. 88 points.
NN verdict – I really enjoyed this wine. Possessed character and of a sense of place.
Mr Vine is a free iPhone app that helps you discover and buy the kinds of wine you like from a marketplace consisting of over 1,000 wines across a dozen different independent UK wine shops. Each month, a panel of five drinks experts (Richard Hemming, Helena Nicklin, Matt Walls, Zeren Wilson and me) meet up to taste a selection of wines available via the app in order to sniff out some gems. We score the wines out of 100, provide a tasting note and – perhaps most importantly – pick our top five of the night. These won’t necessarily be the highest scoring, just the wines we feel most excited about bringing to your attention.
For more info on the app and how it works, check out mrvine.co.uk.